This year’s winner of the Malice Domestic Award for Best First Novel stars a lawyer whose scruples have gotten her bounced from her big-city firm back to her roots in Dacos, South Carolina.
The world Avery Andrews returns to might as well be under glass in a history museum. Redneck suitor Donlee Griggs stages a series of phony homicides and suicides to get her attention. An outraged local historian wants her to defend a Confederate spy who’s been slandered 150 years after the fact. Avery’s clients seem scarcely more in touch with reality. Harrison Garnet, who wants her to hold his hand during an environmental inspection, seems oblivious to the possibility that the Garnet Mills could have polluted nearby streams, or that there’ll be hell to pay if they have. And Melvin Bertram, Garnet’s one-time Chief Financial Officer, seems more bemused than worried that the corpse the divers found while searching for Donlee’s latest nonexistent victim is that of the wife who disappeared from his hearth and home years ago. Clearly, there’s some bad medicine at Garnet Mills, but instead of thickening the stew, Pickens yields to the temptation to keep folding in new small-town zanies and bringing the old ones back for one more bow.
If the plotting is slack and predictable, though, the world of Dacos, soaked in tart atmosphere, is well worth a visit, and probably the return visit broadly hinted at the fadeout.