Flip, flashy series debut, starring beautiful, spunky, tough-talking and crack-shooting FBI agent Penelope “Poppy” Rice as a special investigator poking into miscarriages of justice.
Reviving a minor character from her most recent novel, Smith maintains the not-quite-over-the-top wackiness that made An American Killing (1999) so much fun. Agent Rice, having somehow straightened out the Bureau's infamously inept crime lab, is given permission by a grateful director to open up the old and certainly hopeless case of Texas axe murderer Rona Leigh Cooke, who is just days away from execution. Having found a written request for crime lab evidence that was mysteriously denied, Rice takes a second look at Cooke, a short, frail woman who claims to have found Jesus on death row and is currently a national celebrity as the first female to face execution in Texas in more than a century. Could such a woman, who weighed less than 100 pounds when arrested, have had the physical strength to wield a 25-pound ax and, with her ne’er-do-well husband at her side, butcher a man and woman caught in flagrante in a seedy Texas motel? The husband, having died in prison of AIDS, is no help. Rice sets off for Texas and, with the help of handsome but wary Texas Ranger Max Scruggs, as well as a Catholic cardinal hoping to gain publicity for counseling the woman on death row, finds herself hip-deep in gruff, steak-chomping, beer-guzzling blowhards, from Vernon Lacker, the squirming prison chaplain who has married the now-saintly Cooke, to the state's unnamed drunken good-old-boy governor, who refuses to delay the execution. Smith throws in a series of terrific plot twists as the unshakeable Rice finds herself the prisoner of a lunatic religious sect with the FBI at the gates, ready to do anything but the right thing to free her.
Despite loopy plotting and an unresolved ending: a fun, breezy, suspenseful delight.