The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard is a murder mystery novel set in the heart of a small town in the midwest. This is my book club’s first pick for the new year, which we’ll be discussing at the end of the month.
Book Description from GoodReads.com:
During a deadly blizzard in 1987, high school senior Rex Shellenberger and his older brother help their father search snow-covered pastures for newborn calves. What Rex finds instead is a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, completely naked and frozen to death, as if she just curled up and fallen asleep. The body is never identified and is eventually buried in an unmarked grave in the town cemetery. But even after 17 years, rumors still swirl around the girl and the mysterious events of that fateful night. How did she get there? Why did Mitch Newquist, the handsome son of the local judge, suddenly leave town — and Abby, the love of his life — never again to return? A growing number of people believe that visiting the unmarked grave will bring them miracles — but there are those in the small town who know there is nothing inspirational about the legend of the Virgin of Small Plains. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
This was a book with high points and low points for me. On the one hand, I thought that the mystery of this story was really well written. Pickard rotates the point of view of this book between all of the essential characters in the story so that you can slowly learn what each character knows about that night in 1987 and what they don’t know.
You gradually start to get an idea of what really happened that night and why, but you don’t know anything until the author wants you to and I frequently found myself saying, “Ohhhh I know who did it!” and then being proven wrong. I don’t think I really knew the truth until the minute the author wanted me to so I have to commend her for a job well done there.
On the other hand, I had a hard time with some of the awfully graphic detail in this book. I’m sure it’s not the most graphic book ever written but between the gruesome murder details, the in depth descriptions of teenage fantasies and the sex scenes. She leaves little to the imagination. This may appeal to some people but it’s not my cup of tea and I had a hard time getting through some chapters, occasionally enough to make me consider reading something else.
Luckily for my book club, the essential heart of this story was enough to keep me reading and I’m glad I did, because it was a really good story. I’d give this one 3 out of 5 stars, but I think a lot of people would give it at least an extra star – not everyone is as squeamish and anti-graphic love scenes as me, I’m sure. And to be honest, there weren’t that many of them, they were just awfully intense when they happened.
All in all, I’d say not a bad start to the new year and I’d recommend this book to most fans of a good mystery. What are you reading right now?