Nancy Pickard's new novel, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, is the new Barnes and Noble Recommends Main Selection. This is a murder mystery (of sorts) revolving around the Linder family and set in fictional small-town Rose, Kansas. Jody Linder's father was killed 23 years ago - her mother is missing, presumed dead, in the same incident - and the man convicted of that crime has been released from his sentence on a technicality. The novel consists of two parallel timelines: the modern line which follows adult Jody as she processes the news that the Bad Man from her past is now free and the flashback line which tells the story of the day leading up to the murder of Hugh-Jay Linder and the aftermath of that event.
The writing of The Scent of Rain and Lightning is very lovely, which is an odd description for a novel with fairly dark subject matter, but it was very evocative. There is a lot of beauty in the descriptions of the Kansas prairie and the thunderstorms that roll through the plains. Pickard sets and maintains a wonderful atmosphere in her book and it does remind me of Billie Letts's Where the Heart Is in some ways, the small town with its intimately intertwined core of residents. There is a nice twist at the end of The Scent of Rain and Lightning and I can tell you I thought I had the mystery figured out...but I was completely wrong. That's a nice feeling when you're reading a mystery novel. The characters are at times a little two dimensional - the town bartender, the busy-body, the abused wife of the Bad Man, etc. - but Pickard did quite well fleshing out the different members of the Linder family.
The one thing that got to me - and should have been fixed at the editing phase - was the massive foreshadowing done in the first set of flashback chapters. The reader has already been informed that Something Bad happened to Jody's family in the opening chapter so I really didn't need the heavy-handed "next-to-last time she saw her father" or that Something Bad would happen in less than 24 hours at the end of a chapter or a break. It was too much and it did get distracting in a book that was otherwise quite nice to read (and hard to put down).
*Dear FTC: I borrowed the advance copy from my store.