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Virgin of Small Plains (Pickard) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
Nancy Pickard (the author of series novels based in the East) has set [her novel] in Kansas, where she lives. Making deft use of parallel time frames, Pickard writes with insight and compassion about an unresolved crime that continues to haunt a farming community. Burdened by its legacy of long-buried sins, the town of Small Plains hasn't been the same since 18-year-old Mitch Newquist was hustled out of the house by his father the judge in the middle of a blizzard.... Pickard draws out the truth with tantalizing suspense, while using the mystery to illuminate the ways a community would rather live in guilt and believe in miracles than give up its dark secrets.
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times


Nancy Pickard is acclaimed as one of today's best mystery writers. Mounting evidence suggests that this description is too limited. . .Pickard (is) one of today's best writers, period.
San Diego Union


Pickard (Storm Warnings) probes the truth behind miracles and the tragedies behind lies in this mesmerizing suspense novel set in Kansas. While rounding up newborn calves during a 1987 blizzard, Nathan Shellenberger, sheriff of Small Plains, and his teenage sons, Rex and Patrick, discover the naked frozen body of a beautiful teenage girl. Later, Nathan and Dr. Quentin "Doc" Reynolds bash the girl's face to an unrecognizable pulp, since they know who she is and fear that either Patrick or Rex's best friend, 17-year-old Mitch Newquist, is her killer. Witnessing this terrible scene is Mitch, hidden in Doc's home office supply closet where he's gone for a condom to use with Abby, Doc's 16-year-old daughter. Mitch's father, a judge, forces Mitch to leave town after the boy admits what he saw. In 2004, Abby and Rex-now the sheriff-find another blizzard victim, Mitch's mother, dead near the marker commemorating the still-unidentified "virgin." Readers may wish the author supplied more detail about the dead girl's background, but some cleverly planted surprises and the convincing portrait of smalltown life make this a memorable read.
Publishers Weekly


Cold case, indeed: a blizzard with too many parallels to a long-ago storm shocks 33-year-old Abby Reynolds into unraveling the mystery behind a 17-year-old homicide. The unidentified young woman found bloodied and naked in the snow has literally haunted the small Kansas town ever since, her unmarked grave emitting a miraculous glow. The secret begins to peel away when Abby realizes that the stories told about that night don't quite ring true. As she asks the people she loves to return to that time in 1987, Abby fears the murderer might be staring her in the face. Pickard's careful plotting builds slowly toward a climax, with the weather contributing to a sense of foreboding. Using flashbacks and multiple viewpoints, she provides an absorbing tale of love and deceit. This very readable standalone suspense novel, the first by popular mystery series author Pickard (Jenny Cain, Marie Lightfoot), will appeal to those who relished Martha Grimes's Hotel Paradise. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. —Teresa L. Jacobsen, Solano Cty. Lib., CA
Library Journal


Accomplished mystery writer Pickard (The Truth Hurts, 2002, etc.) skillfully exposes insidious elements in a small town. Two smitten teenagers in Small Plains, Kan., contemplate making love for the first time. Sent downstairs by girlfriend Abby Reynolds to fetch condoms from her doctor father's supply cabinet, Mitch Newquist instead secretly witnesses the brutal disfigurement of a dead girl's corpse by the respectable Dr. Reynolds. Mitch recognizes the girl as a local maid from another town. Being an honorable boy bound for college, he discloses what he has seen to his own father, the town judge. To the boy's amazement and growing bitterness, his parents cover up the incident, seeming to believe Dr. Reynold's lies about it, and send Mitch away the very next morning. Seventeen years later, Abby still lives in Small Plains and owns a tree service. Mitch's mother, Nadine, who suffers from Alzheimer's, dies of exposure in a snowstorm after running out in her nightgown to visit the grave of the maid who died so mysteriously. Locals call this unknown girl the Virgin of Small Plains, and her grave has become a shrine, attracting people from all over who believe in miraculous healing. The novel moves back and forth in time, from its present in 2004 to the definitive events of 17 years before. Among the players in the original drama who must now confront the damage it inflicted are the town sheriff and his two boys, who found the girl in the snow (they denied knowing her, although both boys were in love with her); and Abby and Mitch, torn from each other in the heat of young love. Pickard demonstrates an effective restraint with the material, so that when Mitch returns to the town for a reckoning, the shame of the town fathers leads to a satisfying denouement. A quietly fashioned, credible tale about the loss of innocence.
Kirkus Reviews




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