Signs in the Blood, the first of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries, by Vicki Lane is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and BooksAMillion.
Cletus Gentry vanished while hunting ginseng in the hills–and his mother is sure the childlike man was murdered. As Elizabeth retraces Cletus’s last wanderings, she will discover that a killer has been waiting all the while in the coves and hollows near her farm for her to see the light…and then come willingly to her own death.
Signs in the Blood by Vicki Lane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A 3-star start with a 5-star ending.
Appalachian literature, a story within a story: modern-day Elizabeth is helping a neighbor try to figure out what happened to her son, while the memory of Sylvie, who once lived where Elizabeth lives, still clings to the landscape and the people who remember her. This technique helps convey the evolution of Appalachia from then to now.
At first glance, the meandering descriptions and plot could appear to be the mistake of an amateur writer, which Ms. Lane was at the time of publication. The book starts slowly, with an overload of information that winds up being an illusionist's trick to redirect attention. As the story progresses, the writing style begins to multi-task (and, honestly, I'm impressed by the delivery). The story-telling mimics the shape of Appalachia, wandering about much like our creeks and roads, slowing one down to a pace more suited for this neck of the woods. The language and sentence structure is reminiscent of the mountain ballads - the old, dark ballads that ain't afraid to show some spilled blood. That's a clue about the whammy of an ending for little Sylvie's story but one I completely ignored because the modern-murders themselves are covered in the way that reminded me of a cozy mystery - brief and at a distance, no one has to clean up the blood. So when we find out what Mr. Tomlin did to poor little Sylvie...it's a hard punch in the guts to see the matter laid out in plain sight and, when paralleled with the criminal activities that Elizabeth sees unfold, hints at a fear that is still present and active in the world today (and may be happening to some of the unmentioned victims of the story's modern crime, if one thinks about what could happen next, after this particular crime is committed - which sends shivers down the spine). I don't want to give spoilers but I will say this - people who are sensitive to fictional violence should avoid this particular book; however, I highly recommend this book to folks who love the old ballads and the bloody folktales attached to them.
I look forward to reading the next book in this series.
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