Bibliophile reviews The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by Sharyn McCrumb

No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 1992
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: North Carolina, USA, contemporary
Some themes: Life and death, second sight, cancer, madness, family ties

Story: Two teenagers are the only survivors of a family tragedy that ended in a triple murder and suicide, a woman expecting her first child is beset by loneliness and doubt, a young mother wants the best for her child, and an old man discovers that the cancer that is killing him may be the result of drinking polluted water. All of these stories begin to knit together little by little, with Sheriff Arrowood and seer Nora Bonesteel observing and occasionally participating in the story.

Review: Calling this installation in the Ballad series a mystery is simplifying things. It is not just a mystery but also a psychological thriller, a true-to-life story about ordinary people, and an ode to the Appalachians and their inhabitants. But "mystery" is perhaps as good a label as any, as the story is steeped in it – not the whodunnit or whydunnit kind, but the more indefinable mystery of life. At every turn you wonder what is going to happen next and sometimes you are right, but just as often you are totally wrong. The story is literary in the best sense of that word: beautifully written, well plotted, realistic and yet dreamlike at times, and McCrumb fully deserves the title of master storyteller. The murder mystery is only a small part of the overall plot and really solves itself, but Sheriff Arrowood is still an important character because he is a participant in all the stories told in the narrative, the central character who binds everything together, along with Nora Bonesteel who observes events from her mountain house, sometimes long before they happen, and offers comfort and advice to the participants.

Rating: A suspenseful story with much more to offer than a mere murder investigation. 4+ stars.


booklogged said…
Sounds good. I was quite sure I had read a book by McCrumb but when I checked her webpage I didn't see any titles I recognized. It took place in Appalchia and it was about collecting ballads. I'll have to check my reading journal, I guess. Anyway, I'm adding The Ballad series to my TBR list. Thanks for the suggestion.
Bibliophile said…
You're welcome :-)
Anonymous said…
I need a type of summary with characters and their defenition.... i'm writing a book report but i didn't read please help!!! my email is

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