Nancy Pickard, the Edgar Award-nominated writer of The Virgin of Small Plains, returns with a gripping murder mystery, The Scent of Rain and Lightning: A Novel. Set in Rose, Kansas, The Scent of Rain and Lightning is a fascinating read, one that highlights and celebrates small-town life while exposing its underbelly of scandal and gossip.
Fueled by rumors and speculation, the murder of Hugh-Jay Linder has scarred the town of Rose. When the convicted killer, Billy Crosby, gets out on parole and heads back to town, Rose’s inhabitants – including Hugh-Jay’s daughter, Judy, and her family – find themselves questioniong their own accusations and conclusions.
Plot Overview: Tragedy, Honor and Murder
The Scent of Rain and Lightning parallels two separate but interconnected stories: the events leading up to the murder of Hugh-Jay Linder and the present-day conflicts between Jody Linder, her family and Billy. Pickard does not intertwine the two narratives but rather introduces the murder as a long flashback; the effect is a two-in-one story that simultaneously develops tension and follows the complex relationship between Jody and Billy’s son, Collin.
In September 1986, Hugh-Jay Linder was the golden boy of Rose, Kansas. A sweet-natured, honorable man, Hugh-Jay should have had the perfect life; he has a beautiful wife and daughter, he works on his family’s ranch, and he is a respected man in his town. But with his wife hiding secrets and his father’s suspicions of illegal activity on the ranch, Hugh-Jay’s life hit a critical point.
After his murder and Laurie Jo Linder’s disappearance, Jody was sent to live with her loving, doting grandparents. The murder, however, had a lasting effect not only on Jody’s family – including her uncles – but also on Billy Crosby’s family. When Jody and Collin reunite and finally acknowledge the tragic event that has connected them to each other, they decide to uncover the truth of their families’ scandal.
Criticisms and Compliments
Nancy Pickard is in top form with The Scent of Rain and Lightning. Rose is a typical small town, but with Pickard’s descriptions, it almost feels like home. Rose has standard rural fare: a grocery store, post office, a popular bar and grill. It even has a thriving museum, founded by Jody Linder’s aunt, Belle. But what the town has most is heart. Its citizens – a colorful, lively bunch – make Rose, and Jody’s story, unforgettable.
Pickard also enhances her descriptions of the town with an innate understanding of Midwestern values: honesty and hard work. Those attributes (the exhausting work on the ranch, the lack of complaints, the trifecta of a good woman, a good dog and a good job) combined with the beauty of the plains makes Rose a bright spot in the yellow flatness of Kansas.
Pickard has been nominated for an Edgar Award four times and is the winner of multiple awards, including the Anthony Award, Macavity Award, Shamus Award and Barry Award. Her credentials are impressive enough, but her talent shines in her deceptively simple novels. Whatever Pickard writes next is sure to be a great novel.
- Pickard, Nancy. The Secret of Rain and Lightning: A Novel. Ballantine Books, 2010 ISBN 9780345471017l