Signs in the Blood

Signs in the Blood

by Vicki Lane

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440242086
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/31/2005
Series: Elizabeth Goodweather Series , #1
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,072,379
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Vicki Lane lives with her husband, two sons, and daughter-in-law on a mountain farm in North Carolina. She has completed her second Elizabeth Goodweather novel and is at work on the third.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1


You Just Got to Have Faith
(Monday)

When Dessie Miller lay dying at home, her family overflowed the little house in a bittersweet reunion. Food was on the table at all hours of the day and of the night, continually replenished as newcomers arrived with their contributions. "This here's the tater salad that Mommy always loved" accompanied an aluminum dishpan heaped with a pale yellow mound of potatoes, chopped pickles, and hard-boiled eggs, all glistening with mayonnaise. A gaunt chain-smoking woman, just off her factory shift, set down a cardboard tub of fried chicken with a dismissive wave of her cigarette: "It ain't but Colonel Sanders but I reckon someone kin worry it down." A grizzled farmer in clean overalls handed a covered bowl to one of the daughters. "Them greasy cut-short beans is some Ollie canned; she cain't come 'cause she's down in the back, but she cooked 'em up fer you 'uns." The Ridley Branch Freewill Baptist choir sang "O Come, Angel Band" in the living room and two teenage grandchildren got saved in the kitchen.

Elizabeth Goodweather sat quietly at one end of the plastic-upholstered sofa. The heat in the crowded house was stifling but she couldn't step out to the porch, not yet, not while Pastor Briggs was praying aloud for Dessie and for all the "miserable sinners" gathered there. He went on and on in the hypnotic chant that was the way of so many old-time mountain preachers, his voice rising and falling, a loud inhalation at the end of each phrase keeping his message from ever coming to a full stop.

The sonorous words rolled out, almost in an auctioneer's chant: "Yes, it's the hour of decision, brothers and sisters, the time when you make your choice . . . you make your choice between the fire below . . . and it's a hot fire . . . and it's an eternal fire . . ."

I hate the emphasis on damnation, thought Elizabeth, but I know it's what these folks expect out of a sermon. Across the room she saw Miss Birdie Gentry, one of her longtime neighbor friends. Birdie and her middle-aged son, Cletus, lived in a tiny log house down by the paved road that ran beside Ridley Branch. Cletus was what people called "simple," but he and Miss Birdie took care of each other and scratched out a living from their tobacco patch and garden. Miss Birdie's eyes were fixed on the preacher and her lips were silently moving.

". . . but there's a lifeline . . . and it's a heavenly lifeline . . . and Jesus, he'll pull you out of the pit . . ."

Many of those in the little room were swaying and nodding now; some of the women held up their open-palmed hands in an almost ecstatic surrender. "Thank you, Jesus," someone murmured. A few cigarette-hungry men shuffled uneasily by the door, held in place by sharp glances from their wives.

Elizabeth bowed her head, hoping fervently that she would not be noticed there on her corner of the sofa. She had come to say good-bye to Dessie, the old woman who, some twenty years ago, had first welcomed her and Sam to Ridley Branch, here in the mountains of North Carolina. Dessie had been in her midsixties then, sturdy and vigorous. She could hoe tobacco for hours on end or dart up the steep mountain trails after a wandering milk cow. Dessie and her husband, Odus, had taken Sam and Elizabeth under their wing, helping the newcomers to adapt to country life and teaching them how to do the myriad tasks that were part of life on a small mountain farm.

From planting potatoes to plowing with a mule, from milking a cow to butchering a hog, Dessie and Odus had taught the young couple, delighted to be passing on their knowledge of the old-time ways. From them, Elizabeth and Sam had learned the vocabulary of the mountains, had learned that a small creek was called a branch and a bag was called a poke, had learned to say "holler" for hollow, "mater" for tomato and "baccer" for tobacco. "It's about communication," Sam had said when Elizabeth's inner English major winced at these pronunciations. Now, of course, with the passage of years, the mountain dialect had flavored and enriched her own speech and she could appreciate its unique music.

Odus has been gone, it must be almost fifteen years, thought Elizabeth. Dessie had carried on with the help of her children, but time had taken its toll. She had still tended a big garden every year, but with each season she grew frailer. Every spring, as the garden patch was being plowed under her critical eye, she would say that this was her last year to put out so much corn, so many rows of beans and tomatoes. Now, it seemed, that time had come. There was no garden this year. After an unsuccessful operation--"Hit was everywhere; they said she was plum eat up with it"--and a brief stay in the hospital, Dessie had been brought home, where she could be tended by hospice volunteers and by her numerous loving family.

At last the prayer was ended and the preacher was being escorted back to Dessie's bedside for a farewell blessing. Louvanda, the youngest of Dessie's four daughters, leaned down to Elizabeth and whispered, "Soon as Preacher gets done, she wants to see you. She asked for you particular."

"Thanks, Louvanda," Elizabeth said. "I'll wait out on the front porch if you don't mind; I need to cool off a bit."

"Lord, don't I know," agreed Louvanda, fanning her own reddened face. "Seems like I ain't never goin' to get through the change."

The porch was empty except for Dessie's half-blind old cow dog. Patsy thumped her tail and lifted her head to acknowledge Elizabeth's presence, but stayed curled up on her scrap of faded carpet. Sinking gratefully into a weathered oak rocker, Elizabeth stretched out her long legs, propping up her sneaker-clad feet on a milk crate, and looked across the road to new-plowed tobacco fields. The red dirt lay in furrows, heavy clods thrown to the side and dotted with streaming tufts of deep green barley, the remains of a winter cover crop. Beyond the tobacco fields and just out of sight behind a small ridge lay her land--more fields and pastures, barns and outbuildings. And above them all rose the tree-clad peak that was Pinnacle Mountain--her home. Elizabeth's eyes traveled lovingly up the slope, relishing the vibrant yellow-greens of new foliage merging with the deeper emeralds of pine and fir. At the top of the mountain, a slash of pasture gleamed like polished jade amid the trees.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. The verse sprang into her mind, a relic of her churchgoing childhood. They do give me strength, even if I don't have the same kind of faith my neighbors do. She thought of the women inside with their uplifted hands and radiant faces. It would be so comforting, so relaxing, just to believe and not think. I had that kind of faith when I was young. A bitter inner voice sounded mockingly: Didn't you used to believe in a lot of things--Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and happily ever after?

Elizabeth sighed, looking at the western sky beyond the mountain. Four in the afternoon and the sun was still high over her farm. She had welcomed the lengthening days of spring, and now that May was here, with its profusion of flowers and garden work to be done, she hoped that the joyless cloud that had so unexpectedly settled on her last fall would finally lift. There would be time to work in the garden before supper. Time to hoe or dig till exhaustion forced her inside, and then a quick supper, a soak in a hot bath, and she could fall, bone-weary, into bed and sleep without thinking about the empty space beside her.

Sam's death, almost five years before, had shattered her world, but she had forced herself to carry on. She had told herself that there would be time to mourn later: later, after her girls, Rosemary and Laurel, were established in their lives; later, after she had proven to herself that she could keep the farm going. Pressing needs on every side--the farm, the girls, the business--had forced her to hide her grief in some unvisited corner of her mind. Four years had gone by and her friends and family had marveled at her strength, her cheerfulness, and her acceptance. But last October, when Laurel moved to Asheville, I just crashed, she thought.

Laurel, her younger daughter, was a self-described "struggling artist" whose large semiabstract acrylics were beginning to attract the attention of a few galleries. She was fiercely independent and extremely competent. And she's twenty-four years old and certainly capable of being on her own, thought Elizabeth. But as sophisticated and swaggering as she comes across, there's a core of . . . of naivete. I still feel like I have to watch out for her. Or is this just the old empty-nest syndrome hitting with a vengeance?

Elizabeth had spent the winter in a kind of wounded numbness, suddenly mired in loss. She felt in need of comfort but didn't know where to find it, having been unwilling to tell her two daughters--or indeed anyone--that she missed Sam now even more than she had at the time of the accident that had taken him from her.

"Well, Lizzie Beth." Miss Birdie came out, closing the screen door carefully behind her. "Hit's good to see you. I know Dessie'll be proud you come." She wiped her eyes and Elizabeth suddenly realized that Miss Birdie, once an energetic and bustling little butterball, had lost weight and seemed frail and old. Her face was thin and haggard and she was using a cane. A cane--when did this start? Elizabeth wondered.

"Why don't you sit out here with me for a while, Miss Birdie?" Elizabeth suggested, pulling a rocking chair over near her own. "This must be awfully hard on you. You and Dessie have been friends since you were little girls, haven't you?"

"That we have, Lizzie Beth, honey. But when the Lord calls, I reckon we have to answer." The little woman leaned heavily on her cane and brushed her hand across her eyes. "I'm sorry I can't stay and visit with you, Lizzie Beth, but I'm lookin' for Cletus to be home today. He'll be wantin' something hot for supper after bein' back in them woods a couple of weeks." Miss Birdie shook her head. "He's right bad to loafer but he always comes home when it's gettin' time to hoe the baccer. And they's a big tent revival next week up on the bypass and that boy does purely love a tent revival. Hit's some preacher from away called John the Baptizer is what Pastor Briggs done told us."

Miss Birdie went slowly and carefully down the steps and out to her ancient pickup truck, pausing to call back, "You come see us, now."

Once again, the screen door opened and Louvanda and Pastor Briggs stepped onto the porch. "Thank you for coming today, Pastor," said Louvanda. She wrapped her arms across her chest and stood silent for a minute. Her face was wet with tears as she began again, "The home health nurse said Mommy's sinkin' fast; it was a true blessing to have you to pray with her before the end."

Pastor Briggs pulled a folded white handkerchief from the back pocket of his shiny black trousers and wiped his face. "Preaching's hard work, but I'm glad if I could be of comfort to Sister Miller and bring a few more souls to Jesus."

His dark eyes flicked toward Elizabeth, taking in her blue jeans and faded work shirt with disfavor. Louvanda followed his gaze and said, "This here is Miz Goodweather. She lives over yon, almost to the top of Pinnacle, you know, the old Baker place. Miz Goodweather's been a good neighbor to Mommy ever since her and her man moved here. Mommy wants to see you now, 'Lizbeth," she continued. "Just go straight on through. She's still awake but she just had some more of the pain medicine and she'll likely drop off pretty soon."

Stepping back into the claustrophobic heat of the house, Elizabeth saw that most of the crowd of family and friends were filling plates from the laden kitchen table and settling in chairs all around the living room to eat, to gossip, and to reminisce. She knew many of the members of Dessie's large family, and nodded and smiled her way through the throng back to the bedroom where her old friend lay.

Kylie Sue, Dessie's oldest daughter, was standing guard at the door. Her weatherworn face looked tired but serene, and she smiled sweetly at the sight of Elizabeth.

" 'Lizbeth, you come right in. She's gettin' sleepy but she was set on talkin' to you. She was askin' for you this mornin', but then the preacher come." Kylie Sue rolled her shoulders and stretched her arms. "Lordy, I been settin' there with her I don't know how long. I'm stiff all over. If you don't care, 'Lizbeth, would you stay with her till she falls asleep? I need to go get me some coffee."

The old woman lay in the dim light of the little bedroom, a tiny wasted shape under the softly glowing blues and reds of a Delectable Mountains patchwork quilt. Her eyes were closed but her thin fingers picked at the black cover of the worn Bible that was resting on her chest. Elizabeth hesitated. Then she said softly, "Hey, Dessie."

The eyes slowly opened and Dessie squinted up at Elizabeth. Her toothless mouth formed a smile. "Hey yoreself, Lizzie Beth." She stretched out a bony hand and Elizabeth took it. "Get you a chair, Lizzie Beth; I got something to say to you. Seems like it's been just a-goin' round and round in my head and I'll not be easy till I tell you."

Still holding Dessie's hand, Elizabeth sat in the ladder-back chair that was pulled up to the side of the bed. "What is it, Dessie? Is there something I can do for you?"

Dessie looked at the younger woman fondly. "Lizzie Beth, you been a good neighbor to me all these years but there ain't a thing you can do for me now. Preacher's prayed over me and I've had a word with all the young uns. They even brought all the least uns in to say good-bye to Mamaw. I'm content in my heart. But I been studyin' about you, Lizzie Beth. All winter long you ain't been yoreself, worser even than right after yore Sam was took. Now, I know you ain't one to talk about yore troubles, but I could see it just the same. You have a great sorrow on yore heart, a hurt that ain't a-healin'."

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Signs in the Blood 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Miss Birdie's son goes missing while on one of his regular travels looking for ginseng, called ¿sang¿ in the Appalachian area where they live. When Cletus turns up drowned, the sheriff calls it an accident. Miss Birdie's knows that her son, who was ¿slow,¿ was deathly afraid of water and would have never gone near it voluntarily. Plus his shotgun is missing. The elderly woman calls on her friend and neighbor Elizabeth Goodweather to help her find out what really happened. Elizabeth, a widow who makes her living on a small herb farm, decides to visit some of the people who live along the route Cletus might have taken to his secret sang spots. Those folks are a varied lot and include members of a scary paramilitary group and an unusual commune. Along the way, Elizabeth also visits a snake-handling church and a revival meeting conducted by John the Baptizer. Still mourning the loss of her husband Sam, Elizabeth is finding herself attracted to the snake-handling minister, who calls her a sinner ¿ someone who doesn¿t believe in his particular brand of religion. In addition, a friend of Sam¿s comes calling and Elizabeth¿s feelings toward him are ambivalent to say the least. Masterfully interwoven with Elizabeth¿s story is a century-old tale of a 13-year-old mountain girl, Little Sylvie, coerced into marrying a wealthy man old enough to be her grandfather. Both stories contain some scenes readers who are particularly sensitive to evil perpetrated upon innocents may find disturbing. Signs in the Blood is not a cozy, but cozy readers who also read fiction of the more hard-edged variety should give Vicki Lane a try. Her writing is quite elegant ¿ and I don¿t use that term often or lightly ¿ and the story reminiscent of Appalachian tales by Sharyn McCrumb and Philip DePoy. Although Signs in the Blood doesn¿t have excessive or explicit sex or violence, and little coarse language, it is a bit dark.Review based on publisher- or author-provided review copy.
Angie_Lisle More than 1 year ago
A 3-star start with a 5-star ending. Appalachian literature, a story within a story: modern-day Elizabeth is helping a neighbor try to figure out what happened to her son, while the memory of Sylvie, who once lived where Elizabeth lives, still clings to the landscape and the people who remember her. This technique helps convey the evolution of Appalachia from then to now. At first glance, the meandering descriptions and plot could appear to be the mistake of an amateur writer, which Ms. Lane was at the time of publication. The book starts slowly, with an overload of information that winds up being an illusionist's trick to redirect attention. As the story progresses, the writing style begins to multi-task (and, honestly, I'm impressed by the delivery). The story-telling mimics the shape of Appalachia, wandering about much like our creeks and roads, slowing one down to a pace more suited for this neck of the woods. The language and sentence structure is reminiscent of the mountain ballads - the old, dark ballads that ain't afraid to show some spilled blood. That's a clue about the whammy of an ending for little Sylvie's story but one I completely ignored because the modern-murders themselves are covered in the way that reminded me of a cozy mystery - brief and at a distance, no one has to clean up the blood. So when we find out what Mr. Tomlin did to poor little Sylvie...it's a hard punch in the guts to see the matter laid out in plain sight and, when paralleled with the criminal activities that Elizabeth sees unfold, hints at a fear that is still present and active in the world today (and may be happening to some of the unmentioned victims of the story's modern crime, if one thinks about what could happen next, after this particular crime is committed - which sends shivers down the spine). I don't want to give spoilers but I will say this - people who are sensitive to fictional violence should avoid this particular book; however, I highly recommend this book to folks who love the old ballads and the bloody folktales attached to them. I look forward to reading the next book in this series.
kd-did47 More than 1 year ago
Read this as part of my bookclub and thoroughly enjoyed it!  Likely wouldn't have picked it up on my own to read as it sounded more like a lightweight 'cosy' kind of mystery, but it had more depth and interest.  The portrayal of the mountain folk  and the passing of the old into new ways gave it good dimension.  Characters were well drawn and the mystery at the heart of the story was nicely done.  Now reading book 4 of this series and have passed them on to my MIL who is also enjoying them!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I grew up in the area where the setting of this novel took place and know those churches were around but went to one myself. I especially liked the mountain dialect, and if I don't watch myself I find myself swinging back to that way of speech. My grandmother who raised me talked that way. It didn't take me long to suspect the correct person exposed in the end of the book. Very suspenseful.
SterlingSC More than 1 year ago
Really describes the Appalachain community near Slyva,Franklin area.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a resident of NC and having spent all my Summers in the Blue Ridge Mtns, this book's synopsis sucked me and Vicki Lane's skillful writing kept me hooked till the end. I particularly like how she captured the essence of the Mountain folk without making them look stupid, instead showing their point of view. Can't wait to read her next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Loved this book about murder and mystery in rural appalachia. I, myself, live very close to (I think) where she is talking about. The dialect she puts in her book is pretty close. She kept me guessing through the entire book who the killer was, and I was truly surprised when it was revealed. Strange book, at times, but all in all a good read, one that is hard to put down.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Over two decades ago, Elizabeth and Sam Goodweather moved to Ridley, Branch in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. Five years ago, Sam died, but Elizabeth had their two daughters to raise so had no time to mourn her loss though she missed her partner. Now Rosemary lives and works in Chapel Hill and Laurel in Ashville so the empty nest widow, in spite of her herb and flower shop and her nephew nearby, feels lonely especially with the recent death of her best friend who adopted her and Sam when they first arrived. --- A concerned Miss Birdie asks Elizabeth for help because she feels something bad has happened to her adult child Cletus Gentry since his pup came home alone with his bag. The sheriff ignores the concerns of the two women insisting that Cletus with the mind of a child has wandered off for days before even reaching the Tennessee line. While Elizabeth tracks Cletus¿ path, Miss Birdie¿s fears prove correct when a kayaker finds Cletus¿ corpse. However, Elizabeth¿s search places her in jeopardy by a soulless avenger who cleanses transgressions of others by dispatching them to the afterlife. --- SIGNS IN THE BLOOD is a terrific regional amateur sleuth mystery starring an interesting protagonist who keeps the plot focused and several eccentric secondary characters who provide an anchor to the area. The story line insures that the mountains and the heroine are fully developed before turning into a serial killing cozy (strange combo). Vicki Lane writes a top quality woman in peril tale that fans will like and want more treks up the Appalachia.--- Harriet Klausner