A small Midwestern town is shaken when its investigative reporter is killed in a fire.
Founded by Presbyterians, Endurance was recognized by the territorial government of Illinois on July 30, 1836. Now, as the townsfolk plan its septa-quinta-quin-que-centennial festivities, complete with fireworks and floats, Grace Kimball plans her own celebration, prominently featuring margaritas, to mark her retirement from teaching. Her gal pals Jill Cunningham, Deb O’Hara and TJ Sweeney plan to join her, but their soiree is short-circuited when Jeff Maitlin, the new editor in chief of the Endurance Register, invites Grace for a drink at Tully’s sports bar. Under the watchful eyes of owner Bill Tully and waitress Ronda Burke, the handsome newsman invites Grace to write a book review column. Grace is wary. She’s just watched contractor Mike Sturgis threaten reporter Brenda Norris for writing an exposé of his shoddy building practices. But when Brenda is killed in a blaze that’s clearly arson, Grace decides to follow up on the story the reporter was pursuing when she died. Pretending to write a historical piece for Endurance’s 175th anniversary, Grace uncovers in Brenda’s notes an item that clearly piqued the dead newshound’s interest: a fire back in the 1960s that destroyed the Kessler farm, taking with it the two adult Kesslers and Nick Lawler, their son’s high school friend. Suspicion long rested on that son, Ted, whose body was never found. What did Brenda know about the Kessler blaze that may have cost her life? Grace risks it all to find out, discovering that no town is too small to harbor big secrets.
Van Kirk’s debut novel, following a memoir of her own days as a teacher, offers a promising new heroine who’s clever, observant and smart enough to admit when she’s been fooled.