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The Purloined Skull Paperback – October 3, 2013
About the Author
“...a top-notch mystery with complex characters and plenty of sexual tension...will keep you turning pages late into the night…” —Christopher Allan Poe
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The setting is a small Ozarks town in Arkansas. It’s a good story. The characters are so real they might be living next door. The “down-home” language is pitch perfect and a bit coarse from time to time but I enjoyed the author’s touch of humor throughout.
The descriptions are evocative. The author doesn't belabor the weather, but provides brief glimpses that set a scene. I love this:
"Lavender dusk shadowed the streets, and somewhere far to the southwest thunder rumbled. A chunk of bright moon hung in the clear eastern sky, fearlessly waiting for the dark thunder clouds to swallow it up."
From the opening: “Jessie was alone in the newspaper office when the call came about the bones. …What would she do if they were human? Crap, she didn't need this. But, someone had to go and her boss, Seth Parker, was taking chemo. Which left her, more or less, in charge. The title of city editor was a joke, but not so funny anymore.”
Jessie West has fled California and come home to heal and hide, not make headlines with discovery of human bones, but she hitches up her backpack and heads out to Kyle Foster's farm. His dogs have uncovered some bones in a shallow grave. He hopes the bones are old artifacts he can sell for a hefty price.
While Jesse is still at the farm, Sheriff Mac shows up with a handsome new deputy. Dal Starr is an ex-narc from Dallas, part Cherokee and rumored ro be psychic. There’s an immediate push-pull reaction between Dal and Jessie.
He resents having a reporter on the scene. She resents being treated like an enemy. Jessie is unsure about referring to him as an Indian. He tells her, “You don't have to dance around that word. I'm a Cherokee, an American Indian, simple as that. That other PC crap is just that. Crap. We're all native Americans, aren't we?”
Dal touches the ground and picks up a vibe that the body was carried in from some other place, by a woman or two women. He senses lightning, thunder, cold rain, terror. He muses: “All life, he learned from his Cherokee grandfather, left a trail as bright as a shooting star, the particles remaining long after the effervescence faded. He'd read somewhere that we are not humans who would one day become spirits, but rather spirits who had become humans for a short time only to return to that world from which we'd come.”
So whose bones did the dogs dig up? And where is the skull? Could the scattered bones belong to Ken Norville, a brute who disappeared in 1989 during foul weather that spawned twin tornados and floods?
Norville’s old farm offers ideal access to a new highway being built. The widow, now remarried, has been offered a lot of money from a development company planning to build a retirement village. As the cold case heats up, Dal is quick to suspect the widow and her sister-in-law of killing Norville. Jessie prefers to go at the case in a more methodical manner, talking to the local residents, piecing the puzzle together.
The sheriff’s department has its work cut out for it. The bones are naked and the skull is missing, making identification slow and iffy. At times the whole investigation boils down to by-guess and by-gosh.
At one point Jessie does something that seems to fall into the Too Stupid To Live category. Following a tip about the skull she hikes off alone to a hidden cave – in the middle of the night. On second thought, however, anyone with a reporter’s background would understand Jessie’s admission that an “old reporter's instinct for a story overwhelms all common sense."
In one of my favorite chapters Dal goes to The Red Bird, the local gathering spot, to see what kind of gossip he can pick up. The coffee drinkers josh back and forth about the town's history and pecularities, and float their theories about the mysterious bones. The characters make this book and nobody gets lost in the crowd. I got caught up in all their lives and was loath to let them go.
Leftover pasts and sexual waverings between Dal and Jessie get a bit tiresome, but that must be the nature of romantic suspense, and they are great characters. I repeat: I loved this book.
Both running from pasts they regret, new city editor of Cedarton, AR, Jessie (Jessica) West, and new crime scene investigator, Deputy Dal (Dallas) Star instantly butt heads at their first meeting over a discovery of bones. His distrust of reporters and her distrust of would-be psychics sparks an unexpected attraction – one that will explode during their investigation. But the two will have to learn to trust themselves and each other if they’re going to solve the crime and move on – together.
Velda Brotherton does a superb job of capturing her characters’ heightened feelings, their stress and attraction, and has clearly researched for some of the more detailed investigative terms. Her story is fun and tantalizing - keeping its readers on the edge of their seat thinking they know where it’s all going, yet never quite certain.
With zigs and zags, The Purloined Skull mystery will keep readers excited and eager to find out “who done it” while the heated attraction between the main characters will keep it sizzling and fast paced. A great first mystery by talented author, Velda Brotherton. I hope to see more mysteries from her. (Sexual content)
The red herrings and clues keep you guessing 'who killed who when and what happened to the skull' right to the end and Velda Brotherton's impeccable story telling compels you to turn pages and find out what happens next. The storyline is riveting and complex, yet Velda Brotherton has a talent for clarity in her writing, so you always know exactly where you are.
This book will more than satisfy.