CRUEL AS THE GRAVE by John Armistead


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 This third Deep South procedural (A Homecoming for Murder, 1995, etc.) featuring Sheriff Grover Bramlett begins with a victim's-eye glimpse of a past murder. Naresse Clouse, a woman well-beloved by her husband and five children, is meeting her longtime lover in an abandoned barn when she's attacked. Neither her lover nor her killer is ever identified. We shift several years to the present, when a sleazy California dealmaker, recently repatriated to the rural Mississippi of his childhood, is fatally shot in his condo's parking lot. Overweight, genial Sheriff Bramlett--loves his wife, does watercolors of barns--discovers while interviewing large numbers of Chakchiuma County residents, both black and white, that the dead man had shown a strange, pressing interest in Naresse and her family. And the Clouse family, it turns out, had more secrets than the Sheriff ever suspected. The link between the deaths becomes slowly clear as Bramlett and his assistants push the buttons of businessmen, country preachers, college professors--and Naresse's daughter Lizzie, who's being courted by a stalwart sheriff's deputy. A deft portrait slowly emerges of a society in which everyone knows everyone, no one forgets anything, and racial injustice hasn't destroyed the human connection. An appealing, locally grounded mystery marred only by a repetitive attention to irrelevant detail. Sheriff Bramlett's light is hidden under the bushel of Armistead's unsophisticated style.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-7867-0303-2
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996


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