When murder and mayhem happen in Oxford, Georgia, law enforcement can call on a professor at the local two-year college—who is always ready to go off and sleuth.
In this debut novel, it’s 1961 and two black Boy Scouts and a scout master are killed in a blast in a popular cave near Tennessee. Oxford biology and chemistry professor Dr. Will Hampton quickly disposes of that case: no sinister intent involved, just an unfortunate gasoline leak from a nearby abandoned service station. But then, closer to home, events conspire to send him searching for human bones at an abandoned farm. Oh, but first he meets the lovely Liza and, quick as that, they fall in love and find themselves married. But back to the bones: He finds three shallow graves, grim resting places of three young, pregnant women, two white and one black—while someone is shooting at him. Clearly, a serial killer dispatched these women and the hunt is on. Liza makes a breakthrough (yes, in the finest detective tradition, readers now have a husband and wife team). Hampton and Liza try to clear up the mysteries and punish the evildoers, resulting in many plot twists, some clever and some not so much. In his series opener, Edwards is sometimes an awkward writer (“Conway’s house was a beautiful stone house”). But he produces a strong plot, which he moves along briskly in short paragraphs. Unfortunately, he makes some rookie mistakes. First, there is no background, real character development, or conflict. Readers never find out why Hampton has become the go-to guy in these crime cases. And there are simply too many easy coincidences. It boils down to what may be called the novelist as puppeteer: Determined that things will work out for the best, Edwards imposes on readers’ credulity. For example, when Liza is instantly agreeable to a plan that she and Hampton adopt his surprise illegitimate child, readers will likely think, “Really?”
A light and enjoyable mystery that doesn’t require too much soul-searching from the audience.