THE WOMAN IN THE YARD by Stephen Miller


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A Heat of the Night—ish first novel, in which a string of murders upsets the already-fragile peace of a small southern town during the dawn of the Civil Rights era. Q.P. Waldreau is a southern boy who’s seen enough of the world to want to settle down at home. After a stint in Korea with the Army, Q.P. decided that the best use for his experience as an MP would be in law enforcement, and he managed eventually to get himself appointed sheriff of New Hanover County, North Carolina. County sheriffs in the rural South of the 1950s rarely had a full docket on their hands, though, so it comes as some surprise to Q.P. that one of his first tasks turns out to be a homicide investigation: a black prostitute named Cora Snow has been found strangled. Q.P.’s initial suspect is her pimp, Bill Scowen, but when Scowen is found lynched not long after Cora’s murder, the case starts to look more ominous. The Supreme Court has just handed down the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruling, declaring segregation unconstitutional, and the local Klansmen are speaking for much of the white populace when they denounce the “nightmare” of an integrated South. Q.P. himself is somewhat suspect in their eyes, insofar as his girlfriend Nina Mendelson is a northern- educated Jew known to be in favor of integration. Soon two more victims—one black, one white—are found dead, and it becomes apparent that the killer is not about to knock off anytime soon. Small towns are known for their secrecy, and some secrets can be deadly. Can Q.P. gain enough trust from the suspicious whites and terrified blacks to break the case? Somewhat plodding in its setup, but the story moves well once it gets going, with a nice cast of characters and pretty authentic local color.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19962-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999