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DISTURBING THE DEAD by Sandra Parshall

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 31 May 2007

Readers compare books within the context of their current reading. For me, many of the mysteries I’ve read lately have elements which satisfy, but gaping holes elsewhere. So DISTURBING THE DEAD was especially memorable—it climbed out of the sea of my current reading—an absorbing, well-rounded tale. Sandra Parshall has earned every bit of the praise lately heaped upon her.

DISTURBING THE DEAD is a real mystery story (the mystery is not ancillary to the story), filled with clues and twists and red herrings. One very fine storyline concerns human remains, but the order of their appearance and identification is all muddled up. We get more complications before we get answers—beautifully woven! Because my computer broke down after I first read the book, I reread it, and can tell you I found at least 22 storylines. We learn history of the Melungeon people of Appalachia and intricacies of veterinary practice. There is even a love story, though it is a bit too superficially explored for my taste.

There is little onscreen violence. We meet a young lady who cringes—we learn she was once abused—we are constantly worried that someone will beat her—and yet, all of this is conveyed without graphic violence. Oh, well done! Otherwise, heart thumping mayhem abounds; it’s quite invigorating, and is only rarely exacerbated by a foolish heroine behaving foolishly.

DISTURBING THE DEAD is the second story featuring Rachel Goddard, the protagonist, a fact which I learned by injudiciously peeking at one of the bookmarks the author sent me. (I classify everything printed on the back or side flap of a book, bookmarks, and most events others put into reviews as “spoilers.” I avoid reading them as much as possible, so might not know what others might expect.) I had been feeling that the author started and left rather a lot of storylines dangling (they didn’t seem to go anywhere) and weren’t resolved at the end of the book, but this, no doubt, is the difficulty in handling the new and returning reader. Now that I know there is a precursor to DISTURBING THE DEAD, I wish I had started with it. You’ve been warned.

Some formal finishing touches (externally applied by critique groups or literary professionals) are quite visible—fragments covered with spit-shined polish that feel out of place—but these are not enough to knock the reader out of the story. Because I’m a savourer of details in my first (and possibly only) read of a book, I prefer the ability to check up on what I think I know. For me, this book would have benefitted from both a Cast of Characters and a map of the family

It was with great anticipation that I approached DISTURBING THE DEAD because, although I have not met the author, I’ve been reading her posts to DorothyL, Sisters In Crime and the SinC Guppies listservs for almost a year. I was not disappointed.

Sandra Parshall delivers an outstanding mystery.