Friday, June 10, 2011

The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

   If you're easily scared (like me), then you probably shouldn't read this book right before bed (like I did).  The first 50 pages of this book seriously creeped me out.  In 1987, Rex Shellenberger, his brother Patrick, and his father Nathan stumble across the dead body of a beautiful young woman.  She is completely naked and barely visible under the snow drift that covers her.  The Shellenberger boys are shocked by the scene, and they all deny that they recognize this young woman.

   Meanwhile, across town, Mitch Newquist and Abby Reynolds are in high school and very much in love.  But the discovery of the body causes Mitch's parent to send him away the morning after she is found.  With no phone call or explanation from Mitch about why he left, Abby is completely heartbroken, and the town of Small Plains begins to suspect Mitch of being involved with the crime.

   Flash forward to 17 years later.  Life has mostly returned to normal and the young girl who was murdered has become a bit of a legend in the town (meaning...people believe she performs miracles from the grave).  But after all these years of the young girl's story being buried with her body, Mitch returns to town unexpectedly, determined to reveal what happened on the night of January 23, 1987.

   Ok so I know the plot sounds fairly typical for a mystery, but the way this girl's body was found and what happens to it after she is "recognized" is seriously gruesome.  If I were just a little more sensitive than I am, I probably would have had to put the book down for a while.  But Nancy Pickard has a gift for storytelling, and I just could not stop reading it.  Things really start to pick up around page 75 or so, when you realize that certain people of the town know exactly who this Jane Doe is, but for some reason, want to keep her identity a secret.

   The only problem I could find with this book was that the writing was sometimes a little underdeveloped, and the romantic scenes between Mitch and Abby were pretty cheesy (they're hot and heavy...we get it). But, the story is well-organized and written in a way that makes it very very difficult to put down.  So my conclusion is that, while Nancy Pickard may not be the best writer in the world, she sure has a knack for storytelling (and for freaking out her audience for that matter).  Even if the imagery in this book is intense sometimes, it is well worth pushing forward and making it to the final chapters of the book, which will take you completely by surprise.