Nancy Pickard, “The Scent of Rain and Lightning”

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 small town Rose, Kansas, The Scent of Rain and Lightning is a delicious 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 Hugh-Jay’s convicted murderer, Billy Crosby, is set on parole and heads back to town, Rose’s inhabitants – including Judy and her family – are about to question 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 the convicted killer, Billy. Pickard does not intertwine the two stories but rather introduces the story of the murder as a flashback. Although this technique is not unusual, it is effective in that the main character, Jody, and a secondary character, Billy’s son, Collin, are introduced as both children and adults; their development and the impact of the murder on Jody and Collin is that much more fascinating.

In September 1986 Hugh-Jay Linder was the golden boy of Rose, Kansas. A sweet-natured, honorable man, Hugh-Jay should have a wonderful life: he has a beautiful wife and daughter, he works on his family’s ranch, and he is a respected man in his town. However, with his wife hiding secrets and his father’s suspicions of illegal activity involving the ranch, Hugh-Jay’s life is about to reach a critical point.

After his murder and Laurie Jo Linder’s disappearance, Jody is sent to live with her loving, doting grandparents. The murder, however, has 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 will seek out the truth to their families’ scandal.

Criticisms and Compliments

Nancy Pickard is in top form with The Scent of Rain and Lightning. Rose, Kansas, is a typical small town, but with Pickard’s descriptions, it almost feels like home. Rose has standard small-town 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 most has is heart. Its citizens – a colorful, lively bunch – make Rose, and Jody’s story, unforgettable.

Pickard enhances her descriptions of small-town life with her innate understanding of rural, and Midwestern, values. The ranch on which Jody’s family makes their living is successful, but requires backbreaking, difficult labor. The emphasis on honesty and hard work 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

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