Thursday, February 24, 2011

Absinthe of Malice

Pat Browning
by Jean Henry Mead

Pearl's a gem of a town in the midst of the fertile San Joaquin Valley. When a skeleton is discovered in a cotton field, a series of events unfold that unearth long-held secrets, including murder.

Reporters Penny MacKenzie and her friend Maxie Harper discover the old bones and it isn’t long before Penny is investigating Maxie's death.Was she murdered or the victim of a genetic allergy? Complicated relationships within the town include Penny’s mother’s love affair with the police chief, who is somehow involved in the mystery surrounding the skeleton.

Absinthe of Malice
The town’s founding father was also involved as well as his descendant, who, with his attractive wife, represent Pearl’s societal elite. An affair is discovered after the pillar of society's paramour is found dead, and Penny’s former boyfriend Watt shows up in the middle of the investigation after nearly a two-decade absence. 

A number of Pearl's residents get involved, including the newspaper's photographer, Maxie’s neighbor and  her former informant at the police department. Browning carefully profiles each character, leaving the reader wondering who's a suspect or who's an innocent bystander.

Because Pat Browning and I worked for the same small town daily in California’s Central Valley, and ate at the same Chinese restaurant, which is a setting in the plot, I have a special interest in the book (although I didn't know her at the time). The town of Pearl was patterned after the town where we both lived and the author certainly captures the essence of the agricultural area as well as its residents.

The story is fast-paced, skillfully woven and humorous, and keeps the reader wondering whether Penny will unravel the secrets or become the next victim. The author’s portrayal of a small town reporter is spot on, I’m pleased to say, and not the aggressive, obnoxious journalist usually portrayed on film.

I highly recommend Absinthe of Malice as a good read, and look forward to the second novel in the series.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Hi there, dear friend. This is a great review! You know I love this book and I'm eagerly waiting for the next one.


Jerry Price said...

Sounds like my kind of mystery. I'll certainly add to my to-buy list.


Morgan Mandel said...

I love the title of this book. I also enjoy books with a small town flavor. Sounds like a good read.

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

I completely agree, Jean. Absence of Malice is a well-written book with well-drawn characters.