Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones meets Sarah Addison’s Garden Spells in this striking southern debut featuring the ghost of a murdered cowgirl who guides her grief-stricken father and a disgraced former detective to her killer—and a long-hidden family secret.
When disgraced police detective Jo Beth Dawson comes to town, she wants only to watch the rodeo and crawl into a bottle, not necessarily in that order. But when she stumbles upon the body of young rodeo star Pony Jones, Jo Beth feels an otherworldly connection with the dead woman—and an irresistible compulsion to find her killer.
Pony herself, invisible to the eye but not to the sixth sense, guides her grief-stricken father, Titus, to Jo Beth’s side. Jo Beth and Titus are unlikely partners—two wary, broken people who are quick to judge and slow to trust—and their pursuit of Pony’s murderer unleashes a whirlwind of intense emotion and unexpected encounters. With every clue they uncover, dark family secrets are revealed, secrets that will tie the three of them closer than they could imagine.
Featuring psychologically complex characters and a richly layered examination of family, grief, and redemption, The Tender Mercy of Roses is an immensely satisfying read.
Jo Beth Dawson was once a good detective, but the stress of the job led her toward alcohol and off the force in disgrace. When she comes across the body of Pony Jones, however, the murder of the energetic young rodeo star haunts her, compelling her to investigate Pony's death even though it puts Jo Beth in direct conflict with Sam Donovan, her former partner, and irks her own family. As it turns out, Jo Beth's family and Pony's family are linked, and investigating the tragedy will force decades-old secrets to the surface, where no one but Jo Beth wants them to be. Michaels's debut is well-intentioned, but she takes on too many issues (alcoholism, mysticism, interracial tensions, dark secrets), losing the reader in the process. And the killer's identity is telegraphed early on, putting the reader in the frustrating position of knowing more than the book's protagonists. Michaels is obviously shooting for The Lovely Bones; while her attempt has potential, it's difficult to find the story lurking among all the problems.