Single mother-farmer Ruth Willmarth discovers her neighbor, Lucien, and his part-Indian wife Belle, bloody, beaten, and robbed of their life savings. When Belle dies, Ruth faces barn burnings and the disappearance of her son--as she and would-be lover Colm Hanna, who serves as Realtor, town mortician, and part-time cop, track the killer's muddy trail to put an end to this mad season. Mystery by Nancy Means Wright; originally published by St. Martin's Press
In a debut mystery boosted by a vivid setting, Wright masterfully combines dark doings with a moving portrayal of the plight of small Vermont farmers trying to maintain their way of life. Lucien Laroque and his wife, Belle, are elderly, fiercely independent farmers in Branbury, Vermont. Lucien is known not to trust banks and to keep large sums of cash in his pockets. He and Belle make an easy target for the thugs who come in the small hours of the morning to savagely beat and rob them. Neighboring farmer Ruth Willmarth finds Lucien, then Belle. It is her anger, her heroism and her strength that lifts the book above the norm. Ruth's husband, Pete, has left her and the farm for New York City and another woman. The youngest of her three kids, Vic, 10, is having a tough time coping with a bunch of bullies and his father's absence. One of her daughters, Emily, is involved with a boy Ruth has doubts about. Trying to cope with the demands of the farm and the needs of her family is enough without a murder, a series of suspicious barn fires and the escalating pressures to sell farmland to eager developers. Enlisting old high-school beau Colm Hanna, Ruth perseveres even when her son's disappearance seems the final blow. This is fine storytelling, mixing some rural folksiness with both big-time and small-time misdeeds.