Bibliophile reviews If ever I return, pretty Peggy-O
Author: Sharyn McCrumb
Year published: 1990
Setting & time: Tennessee, 1980's
Type of investigator: police
Where got: BookCrossing
The Story: When folksinger Peggy Muryan moves to the small Tennessee town of Hamelin, she expects to have complete peace and quiet while she writes new songs that will hopefully relaunch her career (this time as a country singer). Then she receives a postcard with a message that could only be threatening to someone who knows the next line in the folk song it quotes. Sheriff Spencer Arrowood thinks it’s a prank until someone butchers Peggy’s dog, leaving hints that suggest the killer could be a Vietnam veteran. From there on the suspense builds until Peggy finally stands face to face with her stalker.
Review: I first discovered McCrumb when I came across her satirical novel Zombies of the Gene Pool. I then went on to read the previous book of that duology, Bimbos of the Death Sun and one of her comic Elizabeth MacPherson stories, Missing Susan. I enjoyed all three books for the deft characterisations and the humour, but as mysteries they are nothing special. In fact, Missing Susan isn’t even a mystery, just a very, very funny book about a sympathetic would-be murderer trying repeatedly to off his annoying would-be victim.
This book is so different from the three I had already read, that had I read it without knowing who the author was, I never would have guessed.
The characters are, as is McCrumb’s wont, well drawn and real, and so are the descriptions of their surroundings. Although it is obvious that she is preparing the soil for a sequel by doing some of the necessary introductions of characters and environment, it is done in such a way as not to bog down the story, but rather serves to create atmosphere. The backdrop of the story is the Appalachian mountains and the small town, complete with town eccentric and other colourful characters. You quickly realise that the killer definitely has more than a few screws loose, and McCrumb gives you four possible suspects to choose from, at least three of whom are equally plausible. I figured him out simply because I didn’t want the others to be guilty, but was still kept in considerable doubt throughout the story.
The ending has a twist in the tail that took me completely by surprise.
Rating: A classy, thrilling mystery. Looking forward to reading more in the series. 4 stars.