TO HELEN BACK:
A River Road Mystery (Book #1)
By Susan McBride
Witness Impulse (HarperCollins) May 27, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0062359759 e-book ($2.99)
ISBN-13: 9780062359766 print
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Helen Evans has lived in the tiny town of River Bend, Illinois for fifty of her seventy-five years, and it has always been peaceful, with a close bond between its two hundred inhabitants. At least that's how it was until Milton Grone returned and moved into his parents' old home with his trophy wife Shotsie.
The elder Grones were well-liked, kind and generous, and loved their hometown. They left most of their money to the town to be used for improvements, but Milton inherited their house and a small parcel of land on the river. To the town folk's dismay and Milton's glee, a national company made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and the beautiful wooded acres along the river, habitat to a wide variety of birds and other wildlife, will soon be turned into the Wet 'n' Wild Water Park.
No one except his current wife is sad when, after a tumultuous town hall meeting focused on Milton and his evil ways, the man is found dead of an apparent heart attack. When the local doctor, suspecting something is not right, calls in an expert who confirms that Milton was murdered, no one is surprised.
Sheriff Frank Biddle has his hands full trying to identify the killer. It seems almost everyone in River Bend has a motive for wishing him dead. Nature lovers Ida Bell and Dotty Fenny have been fighting him tooth and nail on the sale of the land. The town board has been after him for ten years' worth of unpaid community funds. He has terrorized his next-door neighbor, the sweet, mild-mannered Felicity Timmons, trampling her prized flowerbeds, building a fence on her property, and taking potshots at her cat. His first wife Delilah is out for his blood, or at least his money, for long-past due child support and alimony. He has even wronged an innocent girl, breaking her heart.
Even the minister can't find anything good to say about the man, struggling to write the eulogy for Grone's funeral. He imagines that most of the people who come to the funeral are there just to make sure Grone is really dead.
Helen tries to fill the empty space in her life by doing crossword puzzles, bridge games, lunching with the ladies, and quilting, but she has plenty of energy left over. She decides to use it to help the sheriff with his inquiries, which he tries to discourage, telling her she has a "Miss Marple" complex. She counters that she is merely "a people person with a curious soul."
Indeed, Helen brings to mind an updated, but equally astute, American version of Miss Marple. The people of River Bend have the same kind of problems and secrets as the denizens of St. Mary Mead. The houses are charming, except for the run-down Grone residence, with gardens full of roses and other blooming foliage. Similarities aside, Helen is her own person, with her own stories to tell and crimes to solve, and River Bend, Illinois is uniquely American.
Ms. McBride is an award-winning writer with a number of successful series and stand-alone novels. The River Road series is off to a great start with TO HELEN BACK. Long may she run.
This book is currently available to pre-order.
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