½ The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter ì Download by ½ Sharyn McCrumb Perhaps I am cynical, but I knew the reason for the murder from the first pages Waiting for everyone else to figure it out was nerve wracking to say the least THe subplot involving the minister s wife and her baby felt tacked on me, it served no real purpose except to jack up the tears quotient for the reader.
The Hangman s Beautiful Daughter, published in 1992, introduced Sharyn McCrumb s portrait of life in Dark Hollow, Tennessee, a small town in the Appalachian mountains This novel was a Mystery Guild Selection.
Main characters begin with Nora Bonesteel, an elderly woman with the gift of Sight Her house is on a mountaintop that faces the nearby mountain showing the Hangman s face People come to her for help One of her friends is Jane Arrowood, widowed mother of Sheriff Spencer Arrowood Spencer s staff include Deputy Sheriff Joe LeDonne, a Viet Nam vet with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and his girlfriend, dispatcher Martha Ayers Laura Bruce, wife of minister Will who is serving as an army chaplain in the Middle East, is learning to live in rural Wake County, and she runs the church, with help, in Will s absence.
Then there s the Underhill family, a retired Army major, his wife, and four children, living in a farm house near the river Mark and Maggie find the bodies of their parents and brothers when they return from choir practice Laura is called to respond to the tragedy, where the police and the coroner are investigating the homicides Did Joshua kill the others and then shoot himself Taw McBryde and Tavy Annis were close friends in childhood, and in retirement they became friends again But Tavy found he suffered from liver cancer, caused by chemical pollution in Little Dove River near his house Taw and Tavy undertake research, investigation, and petitions to have the pollution cleaned up, but run into barriers everywhere That doesn t stop their crusade When Tavy dies, Laura takes his place in organizing a political action committee.
Little Dove River is not only polluted it floods its banks at the end of the book Laura rescues Maggie from the old farmhouse and finds out the truth about the deaths of the Underhill family.
Everyone In Dark Hollow, Tennesee, Knew That Old Nora Bonesteel Had The Sight So Naturally She Was The First To Know About The Murder Suicide Four Members Of The Underhill Family Lay Dead On A Run Down Farm, And The Two Children Who Survived Had No One Left Only The Minister S Wife, Laura Bruce, Was Willing To Be Their Guardian The sense of place in this book is so real you can feel the mountain shadows lengthen I identify with the characters so much I can almost feel their pain Loved Maggie and was so angry at those who failed to help her and Mark when they needed it Nora Bonesteel is a wonderful character you d love to meet in life The only criticism would be that I thought the Justin Warrren camp of wanna be soldiers didn t serve much purpose They seemed extraneous Overall a great read.
In the used bookstore a few days ago I asked the clerk for a mystery recommendation This was one of them While it isn t objectively bad, I just didn t enjoy it I realized tonight that I was coming up with any excuse to not pick it up and finish So I quickly skimmed the last half and guess what It was of the same This isn t a mystery even though it s categorized as a crime novel the killer is named very early on At times it seemed to be dealing with environmental issues, then small town religion, an old woman with the sightwell, you get my drift It was all over the place and needed to pick a literary lane Part of the issue is that I also looked at the book summaries of the rest of the series I knew then it wasn t going to work for me Not a real series with consistent characters 2 5 stars.
This story is as odd as the several mountain stories that are told within it Nora Bonesteel has the second sight and she often has the coffee poured and plates of cookies out arleady when the visitor comes up the road She is the character around whom the story is told although she is not the main character There is a terrible tragedy and four members of the Underhill family are dead and the remaining two children are dazed and left without kin to take them in There are several stories which thread through the book, a young woman s struggle to bear a child, a tragic fire and the sad death of a farmer suffering from fatal cancer from toxic chemicals leached into the stream that runs through his property.
The stories are a window into the Appalacian culture, its strengths and its weaknesses The characters are vivid and real and the story telling is just as it should bedark stories of mystery, love and tragedy This is a wonderful book to sit back and enjoy Although there is a mystery with things not really being as they appear, this book is a collection of Southern story telling with a fey old woman who sometimes sees the future It s almost a series of short stories, tied together in the framework of a quilt the old woman is creating Two parents and a young boy are murdered by an older son who commits suicide, leaving two siblings behind The minister s wife, in his absence because of being deployed as a chaplain to the midEast, is a connecting thread among several of the stories A polluted river runs through the hollow in the backwood mountains of eastern Tennessee.
All told with a bit of the supernatural, but not with dime store vampires A good read.
Another one that could do with a half star However, what I loved about this book was that it wove in Shakespeare, the Irish heritage of Appalachia, and the ballads that nurture the area so beautifully In a lot of ways it reminded me of Christy it s not necessarily a compelling story, but a compelling setting and characters The mystery is, quite frankly, a sideline.
I look forward to reading of her novels.
Modern contemporary general fiction hasn t formed the largest bloc of my reading not because I don t like it, but just because, at the specific times when I ve picked books to read over the years, selections from the other genres have usually happened to overshadow anything from this one And I greatly enjoy both the supernatural as well as other speculative and mystery genres So it s perhaps not surprising that when I do read general fiction, some of what I m attracted to has elements of other genres, though not pronounced enough to make it part of them That s the case with the Ballad series, set in fictional Hamelin, TN and featuring continuing characters Sheriff Spencer Arrowood, his small staff, and mountain wise woman Nora Bonesteel as well as characters unique to each novel McCrumb is a successful author in the mystery field, and this series, anchored as it is to the life of a small town sheriff s office, frequently has plots that involve crimes, sometimes involving detection and unanswered questions as is the case here, where there is to this murder suicide than meets the eye The books also have occasional matter of fact glimpses into the supernatural, woven into the fabric of normal life but never overwhelming it Miz Bonesteel, for instance, has second sight as did her grandmother , and that s just something everyone knows and takes for granted Magical realism is a term that might be apt here And in some books of the series, though not this one, the author interweaves blocs of historical fiction with the present day narrative, as Appalachia s past continues to affect, and even haunt, its present But these books don t fit neatly into, or wholly adopt the conventions of, any of those three genres.
Here, the real central concern is with realistically depicting the life and relationships of the characters, and the broader fabric of life and social problems of the modern Appalachia in which they live Author McCrumb herself comes from Appalachian roots, and now lives in the area herself This isn t the idealized Appalachia of, say, Manly Wade Wellman s Silver John series, almost frozen in time and untouched by the evils of modernity Rather, it s the real modern day Appalachia, characterized by grinding poverty, environmental degradation, ruthless exploitation by powerful interests, and a decaying social fabric But traces of the older mountain culture survive and endure a strength of the series is McCrumb s knowledge, and skillful use, of the history, lore, and folkways of the region My own long residence in the area, my wife s roots in it, and my growing affection and appreciation for its heritage, is undoubtedly a factor in my attraction to this series The author s moral and social instincts are sound she s an able storyteller, creates characters you care about, and she doesn t employ explicit sex or much bad language though there s some of the latter Readers should be warned, though, that events in these books can be as rough and painful as real Appalachian life often is in this book, for instance, besides the grisly deaths at the farmhouse, the plot lines include a terminal illness, a fatal trailer fire, and a dangerous flood.
This is actually the second novel of the series, and the one where I d recommend that readers start McCrumb really hits her stride here and this is also the novel that first introduces Nora Bonesteel, who does a lot to make the series as good as it is The first novel is the angst drenched If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy O that title is taken from an old folk ballad that s actually relevant to the story I m not sure what the title of this installment derives from , which is steeped in post Vietnam post traumatic stress disorder and doesn t really succeed in making the characters likable but the writing improves sharply in the succeeding books, starting with this one, IMO.
McCrumb deftly displays both the beauty and the hardship of the Celtic heritage, prevalent in the Appalachian area In this particular tale, McCrumb weaves several storylines simultaneously we are acquainted with Nora Bonesteel, a backwoodswoman with the gift of the Sight , who is the first in the town of Dark Hollow to know about the murder suicide of four members of the Underhill family that left two children without any kin Laura Bruce, pregnant wife of the local minister, serves as an advocate for the surviving children, Maggie and Mark, so that they may remain in their family home and continue classes at the local high school But, when Deputy LeDonne finds that the two have disinterred their father s grave, he sets out to find out what really happened on the night of the shootings Concurrently, the reader is told the story of a local farmer, Tavy Annis, who is diagnosed with cancer, brought on by chemicals leached into the Little Dove River from a paper mill in the bordering state of North Carolina And, at the same time, Sheriff Spencer Underwood s not so secret devotion to country singer, Naomi Judd, is weaved lightly in and out of the story as well.
For myself, I found this to be just one example of McCrumb s wonderful talent for creating interesting characters and fabulous narratives If I had any complaints, I would say that the resolution of the Underhill saga was a wee bit tidy for my taste, and perhaps the medical advice given to Laura was a tad unrealistic, but none of that took much away from this intricate and tightly woven tale I love these ballads, and I will definitely read the remaining books in this series.