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Monday, April 05, 2010

The Scent of Rain and Lightning

Jody Linder is one of the youngest members of the most prominent ranching family in little Rose, Kansas. The Linder family is a respected one but, because of its unusual power and influence, the family sometimes creates resentment and jealousy in a few of the locals. Jody, in fact, lives alone in the very home in which her father was murdered, and from which her mother disappeared, when Jody was only three years old – more than twenty-three years before The Scent of Rain and Lightning opens. Now, Jody is shocked to learn the person convicted of the murder all those years ago, a young man who once worked on her grandfather’s ranch, has been granted a new trial and will be returning to Rose until the lawyers can do their work.

Nancy Picard follows this set-up with a long flashback to the time prior to the horrendous crime suffered by the Linder family, a flashback during which the reader is introduced to all the members of the family: one sister, three brothers, and their hardworking parents. The Linders run a hands-on ranch, and the three Linder brothers are expected to carry their share of the load right along side the men being paid to do the same work. The Linder patriarch also enjoys working with troubled boys and, over the years, he has used his ranch jobs as a way to give these boys a chance to start their lives over again on a positive note before it is too late. The boys seldom let him down – but one, Billy Crosby, the man convicted of the murder of Linder’s oldest son, would fail in a spectacular way.

When Billy Crosby comes back to Rose, most of the town unites with the Linders in outrage that the man is back among them. Jody, since she was a little girl, has been obsessed with finding the truth about what really happened to her mother but what she learns from the few skeptics in town willing to talk about the trial details, and about Billy’s condition on the night of the murders, leaves her wondering if Billy Crosby could really have had anything to do with what happened to her parents.

That Billy Crosby, evil as he still is, might be an innocent man, will not surprise many readers. The fun of The Scent of Rain and Lightning comes from figuring out whom, if not Billy Crosby, is the murderer of young Linder and his wife. Along the way, Nancy Pickard will drop clues about several of the book’s main characters, little tidbits that create enough doubt about several of them to bring them to the reader’s attention as possible suspects. And Picard sprinkles around enough possible motives and character defects to keep the reader guessing the killer’s identity right up to the end of the book. In the meantime, Billy Crosby, never his own best friend, keeps things interesting by acting like the loose cannon he has been all his life.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning is an entertaining mystery, one filled with its share of tension and action, especially as it draws closer and closer to the crime upon which it is centered. Author Picard, though, does not quite play fairly with her readers in the end and chooses the easiest of possible endings for her story. And while her characters are believable and sympathetic enough for the most part, the book’s conclusion suffers in the end when the villain goes flat on us.

Rated at: 3.0

(Review copy courtesy of publisher)
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