Book Review: Women of Mystery
Investigating the latest "persons of interest" in Texas' literary crime scene
Reviewed by Jessi Cape, Fri., Feb. 26, 2016
Stillwater: A Jack McBride Mysteryby Melissa Lenhardt
Skyhorse Publishing, 304 pp., $24.99
This debut novel, first in a series, tells the story of Jack McBride's first week as police chief in little Stillwater, Texas. Dallas native Melissa Lenhardt offers a punchy page-turner that's certain to draw a fan base.
Buck Pollard's speedy and peculiar exit as longtime chief leaves the position in turmoil for the former city-dwelling FBI agent McBride, who steps in unaware of the generations-deep web of good ol' boy secrets. The story starts off with a double murder, and the plot just gets twistier – terrible for McBride and his angsty (but likable) teenage son Ethan, but great for the reader. Lenhardt lets dialogue drive much of the plot, and while some exchanges waver slightly with forced execution, it's believable to anyone familiar with small-town Texas. Her characters have varying degrees of interesting backstories, each with a laser-pointed reason for being disclosed. I'm pretty sure I've been acquainted with at least a few doppelgängers in this lineup.
As "terrible, no good, and rotten" as things are going for McBride, he lucks out with an instant tingly connection to town sweetheart Ellie Martin. Naturally though, there's a big roadblock on lover's lane: McBride's estranged wife. When she (allegedly) abandoned her family for California almost a year ago, she fractured Jack, now a single working dad (!), and derailed her devastated son. Will she return? Is she even alive? Equal parts frustrating and charming, the romantic threads are a delightful, if rather typical, addition to the story. Lenhardt also manages to work into the plot racial strife, drug crimes, sexual consent, slut-shaming, poverty, and boss ladies. Sure, it's another male lead in a crime thriller, but Lenhardt's female roster is complex, abundant, and totally readable. I'm definitely awaiting the next installment of the McBride chronicles, promised November 2016.