Poisoned Ground is the sixth in Sandra Parshall’s Rachel Goddard mystery series, and if like me you come to it without having yet read the first five, you may find yourself running out to the local bookstore to catch yourself up on what you’ve been missing. Poisoned Ground is one heck of an advertisement for Parshall and her story telling. This is a book that not only keeps you turning pages, but doesn’t, like some, disappoint when you’ve turned that last page.
The book is set in a depressed small town community in Mason County in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Goddard who runs an animal clinic has recently married Tom Bridger, who has just been elected sheriff. As the novel opens, the town has been thrown into a factional dispute, threatening to become a civil war, as a result of a predatory corporation’s plan to buy up land to develop for a high end resort.
The project is divisive. There are those land owners who like things the way they are, and have no interest in change. There are those who have visions of dollar signs for their land. Then there are those who find little opportunity for meaningful employment locally now seeing in the resort the promise of future jobs, future prosperity. When one of the couples who opposes the project and is known to be unwilling to sell their land turns up victims of a shooting attack, the obvious suggestion is that they have been killed because of their opposition.
As Sheriff Bridger begins his investigation, it becomes clear that the situation is a lot more complicated than the obvious. Money questions among some of the families with land to sell as well as new information about the murdered couple suggest other possible motives. Moreover, relations between some of the land owners on both sides aren’t quite as simple as it would seem at first view. In a small community where everyone knows everyone else’s business, it turns out that there are in fact a secret or two.
Parshall’s portrait of life in Mason County, its joys and its problems, is realistically compelling. It is neither an Eden, nor a Sodom. It is the kind of place where people behave the way people behave the world over. There are people with problems — those who work to solve them and those who look for quick fixes. There are those who stand by their principles; there are those who have no principles to stand by. And it isn’t always easy to tell which is which.
Like Bridger and Rachel, the reader will find some surprises, but surprise is the one thing readers of mysteries have come to expect. Parshall’s skill is that when the surprises come, she has sufficiently prepared the way and the reader can buy into them. The reader doesn’t — at least this reader didn’t — feel cheated.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00IRHZXDW]