The Virgin of Small Plains (2006)
Author: Nancy Pickard
Genre: Mystery/Suspense (Soft-edged)
Back in 1987 there was a murdered girl found in Small Plains, Kansas. Now it is 2004. Abby, and the people close to her all know some kind of detail about the mysterious death, but nobody knows the extent of the crime. Most of the town knows nothing about the girl that was found dead, but there is a spreading belief that her spirit looks out and heals the people in town because they were kind in providing her with a place to rest her body. They call her "the VirginĒ. Abby decides that she is going to find out what really happened to the girl and in the process, she learns more about her family, friends, people that surround her, and their part in the mystery. SPOILER: As the clues about the Virginís mysterious death continue to emerge, it becomes more and more apparent that someone in town, with a lot of power, is more responsible for more deaths than just the Virgin.
Geographical Setting: A small town called Small Plains, Kansas
Time Period: Jumps back and forth between 1987 and 2004
The novel is fast paced and absorbing. Chapters are short, often ending in hangers so the reader wants to get to the next scene. Pickard switches plotlines throughout the book and switches time periods as well. The story goes back and forth between 1987 and 2004 and follows a small number of characters. There is good characterization and the reader gets to know the few key characters well. Characters are likeable and the reader wants them to succeed in finding out not only the truth about the murder, but also what will happen between the characters involved in each others lives.
Read-alikes: Fans of cold case mysteries driven by character centered plots might also enjoy A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read. Reporter Madeline Dare must help clear her cousin's name in a 20 year old murder case involving 2 young hippie girls. In a darker vein, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn features another character centered, albeit grittier, cold case murder mystery, this one set in the small town of Wind Gap, MO. Reporter Camille Preaker must wade through her own dysfunctional family drama as well as the bizarre details surrounding the strangulations of two pre-teen girls. Readers who enjoyed Pickard's small town setting and fast paced multiple view point story may soon find themselves fans of Linda Hall's Black Ice. Townsfolk believe an angel lay slain behind Lenore Featherjohn's B&B due to the way her body lay positioned as if in prayer. Another character centered, small town, cold case mystery can be found in The Bright Forever by Lee Martin. Multiple voices piece together the story of the tragic abduction of 9 year old Katie Mackey in 1970s rural Indiana. Those who enjoy Pickard's humor, characterization and plot twists might like Gillian Roberts' Caught Dead in Philadelphia which introduces the teacher/sleuth Amanda Pepper. Pepper is set with the task of clearing her own name in the case of a fellow teacher's murder. Readers who like the small town setting and being involved with characters lives while figuring out the mystery will enjoy The Slow Moon by Elizabeth Cox. Another mystery title that draws out dark secrets of the past and tests the bonds between family and friends is Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman. If you like Nancy Pickardís quick paced mysteries and involvement of characters, you may want to try another one of her books. The Whole Truth by Nancy Pickard will keep you enthralled as a young woman seeks to find out what happened to an abducted girl and gets into a little danger herself. Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard is the story of a bizarre murder case where a retired detective takes on a struggling young poet named Edgar Allen Poe to help him solve the case.
Red Flags: There is some profanity and a few sexual scenes.