Mary Byrd Thornton has received an unsettling phone call from a reporter seeking details about her little brother’s unsolved murder. The police are apparently reopening this 30 year old cold case. Mary and her family have since moved on. She now lives in a small Mississippi town with her art-dealer husband Charles and two kids. Since the police want her and her family back for questioning – they apparently have new leads – she must go back for a meeting. An unexpected ice storm is moving into the area, and Mary, petrified air-traveler, must find some way of getting from Mississippi to Virginia in really bad weather.
That’s the beginning of the novel, and it hooks you right in. However, right after the introduction of the murder mystery, the novel sidetracks into full-blown description mode, detailing for us various eccentric characters in Mary’s life. There’s Mary, her husband, her kids, her husband’s old schoolmate Mann, who’s a rich chicken farmer of sorts. Then there’s Mary’s help, an African American lady called Evagreen, with whom Mary has an odd relationship. There are also other characters around town – an odd-job man called Teever, and Ernest with whom Mary has a semi-flirtatious relationship. All these characters are in the novel because they influence Mary’s life. All are well-drawn.
From the book blurb I was expecting a murder mystery, and while that is present it is given very little space, and appears almost like a backdrop against which the character descriptions are set. Lisa Howorth writes beautifully, and her writing flows. I was quite content to go along and listen to her descriptions. It took me a while to realize that the descriptions and the vignettes of Mary’s life formed the bulk of the book, and that was a little disappointing. This novel is not for those of you who expect a straight-forward crime thriller or police procedural. This isn’t one; rather it is a novel detailing the aftermath of a terrible tragedy and the plight of a family-member desperately seeking some form of closure.
Given Howorth’s obvious talent, this book should have been an absolute must-read, for the right kind of audience. Publicizing this book as a murder mystery (when it isn’t one) does it a disservice and places this book in the hands of the wrong audience – an audience whose expectations it won’t meet. That said, I have to give credit where credit is due, and it goes to the author for pouring her heart out on paper (the book is based on a true unsolved murder).
Even though this book doesn’t deliver on it’s blurb’s promise, this is a good read for all those folks who enjoy a well-written, exquisitely described story of healing and closure.