This recuperation means I finally got to read Nancy Pickard's Scent of Rain and Lightning. I was blown away. It's a beautiful, lyrical, painful novel set in the ranching country badlands of northwestern Kansas. A mystery? Yes, but with a depth of character and evocative setting to win over any reader. Pickard weaves the present with an event that happened 23 years earlier. Gradually the mystery is solved as she takes us back and forth through time in the most skilled of ways.
This is a book that made me rue what a fast reader I am. I loved it, could not put it down, and when I was done I was so disappointed that I couldn't keep reading it for a week.
Picard has written and published almost two dozen books. She is a former president of Sisters in Crime. And she's on Facebook. I dropped her a note on FB about how much I loved the book and she immediately wrote back! We had a little dialog on her wall back and forth for a few minutes. She's very gracious. Then I made my slow way up the hill to the Ipswich library and checked out her just prior book, The Virgin of Small Plains, which I had also heard great things about.
Virgin is similar in that it is also set in Kansas, but in a different area, one of farms and rolling hills. Also similar is the back and forth between the present and an event 18 years in the past, and how you gradually discover the mystery. The most important similarity is how she evokes feelings and sensations with her descriptions of place, and how beautifully she portrays the characters, their loves, their angsts. Otherwise they are two free-standing novels with different people and different problems.
If you don't read any other books this year, read these two. I wish I could reread them over and over. Both are Reader's Circle books (which appears to be a division of Random House Books) and include a discussion with Pickard at the end about her writing, how she came to these particular stories, why she finally started placing her novels in Kansas where she has always lived. It enriched my knowledge of her as a writer. The books also include Reading Group questions and discussion topics. Sign up your group!