An amateur sleuth comes to the rescue in this suspenseful backwoods drug caper.
Wealand’s unpretentious debut mystery novel reveals its disarming, straight-shooting charm from the first sentence: “Dr. Garnet Daniels hurried toward the women’s restroom desperately squeezing her anal sphincter and hoping she wouldn't meet anyone on the way.” Garnet, who struggles with irritable bowel syndrome, is something of an anomaly as a successful, well-respected doctor in her small Arkansas community who teaches Gross Anatomy at the local medical school. With her husband away on a long trip overseas during her first summer vacation in years, she looks forward to getting some much-needed relaxation. However, her niece, Colleen, who’s living with her for the season, gets involved with a morally dubious college football star and then implicated in a drug investigation. Garnet puts her intelligence and occasionally far-fetched intuition to good use; at one point, for example, she tracks down the snake whose titular bite has landed the football star in the hospital—and whose stomach contains a key piece of evidence. Some suspension of disbelief is also necessary to swallow the idea that local law enforcement would readily accept Garnet’s somewhat intrusive help. For the book’s middle stretch, Garnet and Colleen are joined by Colleen’s mother, Rae; her business partner, Maezelle; and Garnet’s other sister, Valentine. Wealand’s large cast of characters can feel excessively crowded; later, her focus zooms out to introduce even more new characters as the scope of the investigation expands. Also, the book suffers slightly from its characterization of marijuana as a gateway drug. However, Wealand’s prose is readable, often funny and always clear, and she vividly and intimately conjures her rural setting (“The muted roar of the outboards lulled the passengers who began to relax and enjoy the sparkling current and graveled banks of the winding river”). Mystery fans will surely enjoy this romp and look forward to the series’ next installment.
A winning protagonist and authentic sense of place make this a mystery worth puzzling over.