The Barnes & Noble Review
After more than a dozen novels, mystery and suspense author -- and longtime Kansan -- Nancy Pickard finally comes home to the Sunflower State in The Virgin of Small Plains, a hauntingly bittersweet story about the residents of a Kansas town and the grisly secrets some of them have kept buried for 17 years.
During a deadly blizzard in 1987, high school senior Rex Shellenberger and his older brother help their father search snow-covered pastures for newborn calves. What Rex finds instead is a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, completely naked and frozen to death, as if she just curled up and fallen asleep. The body is never identified and is eventually buried in an unmarked grave in the town cemetery. But even after 17 years, rumors still swirl around the girl and the mysterious events of that fateful night. How did she get there? Why did Mitch Newquist, the handsome son of the local judge, suddenly leave town -- and Abby, the love of his life -- never again to return? A growing number of people believe that visiting the unmarked grave will bring them miracles -- but there are those in the small town who know there is nothing inspirational about the legend of the Virgin of Small Plains. In fact, it's just the opposite…
The melancholic appeal of this unexpectedly touching novel can be found in the multitude of contradictions associated with small-town America. Pickard fittingly describes The Virgin of Small Plains as set in the place "where Truman Capote proved in In Cold Blood that small Midwestern towns can be the most deadly of all, and where Dorothy proved in The Wizard of Oz that there's no place like home." Just like real life, this novel is full of joy, desire, heartbreak, tragedy -- and, above all else, hope. Paul Goat Allen
Pickard draws out the truth with tantalizing suspense, while using the mystery to illuminate the ways a community would rather live in guilt and believe in miracles than give up its dark secrets.
The New York Times
Pickard (Storm Warnings) probes the truth behind miracles and the tragedies behind lies in this mesmerizing suspense novel set in Kansas. While rounding up newborn calves during a 1987 blizzard, Nathan Shellenberger, sheriff of Small Plains, and his teenage sons, Rex and Patrick, discover the naked frozen body of a beautiful teenage girl. Later, Nathan and Dr. Quentin "Doc" Reynolds bash the girl's face to an unrecognizable pulp, since they know who she is and fear that either Patrick or Rex's best friend, 17-year-old Mitch Newquist, is her killer. Witnessing this terrible scene is Mitch, hidden in Doc's home office supply closet where he's gone for a condom to use with Abby, Doc's 16-year-old daughter. Mitch's father, a judge, forces Mitch to leave town after the boy admits what he saw. In 2004, Abby and Rex-now the sheriff-find another blizzard victim, Mitch's mother, dead near the marker commemorating the still-unidentified "virgin." Readers may wish the author supplied more detail about the dead girl's background, but some cleverly planted surprises and the convincing portrait of smalltown life make this a memorable read. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Cold case, indeed: a blizzard with too many parallels to a long-ago storm shocks 33-year-old Abby Reynolds into unraveling the mystery behind a 17-year-old homicide. The unidentified young woman found bloodied and naked in the snow has literally haunted the small Kansas town ever since, her unmarked grave emitting a miraculous glow. The secret begins to peel away when Abby realizes that the stories told about that night don't quite ring true. As she asks the people she loves to return to that time in 1987, Abby fears the murderer might be staring her in the face. Pickard's careful plotting builds slowly toward a climax, with the weather contributing to a sense of foreboding. Using flashbacks and multiple viewpoints, she provides an absorbing tale of love and deceit. This very readable standalone suspense novel, the first by popular mystery series author Pickard (Jenny Cain, Marie Lightfoot), will appeal to those who relished Martha Grimes's Hotel Paradise. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Teresa L. Jacobsen, Solano Cty. Lib., CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Accomplished mystery writer Pickard (The Truth Hurts, 2002, etc.) skillfully exposes insidious elements in a small town. Two smitten teenagers in Small Plains, Kan., contemplate making love for the first time. Sent downstairs by girlfriend Abby Reynolds to fetch condoms from her doctor father's supply cabinet, Mitch Newquist instead secretly witnesses the brutal disfigurement of a dead girl's corpse by the respectable Dr. Reynolds. Mitch recognizes the girl as a local maid from another town. Being an honorable boy bound for college, he discloses what he has seen to his own father, the town judge. To the boy's amazement and growing bitterness, his parents cover up the incident, seeming to believe Dr. Reynold's lies about it, and send Mitch away the very next morning. Seventeen years later, Abby still lives in Small Plains and owns a tree service. Mitch's mother, Nadine, who suffers from Alzheimer's, dies of exposure in a snowstorm after running out in her nightgown to visit the grave of the maid who died so mysteriously. Locals call this unknown girl the Virgin of Small Plains, and her grave has become a shrine, attracting people from all over who believe in miraculous healing. The novel moves back and forth in time, from its present in 2004 to the definitive events of 17 years before. Among the players in the original drama who must now confront the damage it inflicted are the town sheriff and his two boys, who found the girl in the snow (they denied knowing her, although both boys were in love with her); and Abby and Mitch, torn from each other in the heat of young love. Pickard demonstrates an effective restraint with the material, so that when Mitch returns to the town for a reckoning,the shame of the town fathers leads to a satisfying denouement. A quietly fashioned, credible tale about the loss of innocence.
Advance praise for The Virgin of Small Plains
“The Virgin of Small Plains will keep you up all night. Nancy Pickard’s intelligent, suspenseful storytelling never disappoints.”
“Like the heart-stopping skid that sets it in motion, this book hurtles inexorably toward a startling conclusion. Along the way Nancy Pickard wrests magic from the everyday and redemption from broken dreams. The Virgin Of Small Plains is a beautiful and resonant book.”
–Carol Goodman, author of The Ghost Orchid
“An unforgettable tale of love, lust, faith, betrayal, and redemption. A powerful, mesmerizing suspense novel–a tour de force!”
–Judith Kelman, author of The Session
“A hold-your-breath suspense story–sexy, warm, and poignant, with aching loss and a human desire for miracles. Pickard’s best book yet.”
–Margaret Maron, author of Rituals of the Season