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Nancy Means Wright

Mad Season

Mad Season Book Cover
Hardcover - St. Martin's Press

Mad Season Book Cover
Paperback - Author's Guild

Spring in this Vermont farming town takes a slippery and sinister turn when Ruth Willmarth's elderly neighbor, Lucien Larocque, answers a knock at his door in the middle of the night. He opens it to a brutal attack. Larocque and his wife Belle are beaten, and the smelly "barn" money that he kept hidden rather than trust to a bank is stolen. In spite of Ruth's best efforts, Belle dies from her wounds. Soon a string of barn burnings serves to put the grieving town further on edge, and there is no telling when the mud will settle. With would be lover Colm Hanna, a pun loving Irish realtor who doubles as the town mortician, Ruth slogs through the mud, the barn burnings, even the disappearance of her own son, as she tracks the murderer's muddy trail and puts an end to this mad season.

Read Chapter One of Mad Season.

Reviews & Comments:

In a debut mystery boosted by a vivid setting, Wright masterfully combines dark doings with a moving portrayal of the plight of small Vermont farmers trying to maintain their way of life. Lucien Larocque and his wife, Belle, are elderly, fiercely independent farmers in Branbury, Vermont. Lucien is known not to trust banks and to keep large sums of cash in his pockets. He and Belle make an easy target for the thugs who come in the small hours of the morning to savagely beat and rob them. 

Neighboring farmer Ruth Willmarth finds Lucien, then Belle. It is her anger, her heroism and her strength that lifts the book above the norm. Ruth's husband, Pete, has left her and the farm for New York City and another woman. The youngest of her three kids, Vic, 10, is having a tough time coping with a bunch of bullies and his father's absence. One of her daughters, Emily, is involved with a boy Ruth has doubts about. Trying to cope with the demands of the farm and the needs of her family is enough without a murder, a series of suspicious barn fires and the escalating pressures to sell farmland to eager developers. Enlisting old high-school beau Colm Hanna, Ruth perseveres even when her son's disappearance seems the final blow. This is fine storytelling, mixing some rural folksiness with both big-time and small-time misdeeds. Publishers Weekly

Open season is more like it, since the casualties are only beginning when a bunch of masked thugs knock on old Lucien Larocque's door only to beat him to unconsciousness and his part-Indian wife Belle to death. It isn't just the high-profile felonies that continue to make headlines (or would if Branbury, Vermont, had its own daily), as Lucien's neighbor Ruth Willmarth and her swain Colm Hanna, mortuary scion and realtor, see when they look more closely into Belle's death and the theft of Lucien's pitiful cash hoard, though there'll be another murder, a kidnapping, and a rash of barn burnings before the final tableau. It's the sense that every crime is expressing low-level, deep-rooted conflicts that rage all over the hardscrabble landscape. Ruth rages against Pete, the husband who abandoned her for his shot at the silver screen: Pete's crazy sister Bertha rages against Ruth; the incoming city boys in school hate the farm boys; and the farm boys, in Wright's final savage version of the Great Chain of Being, hate each other and themselves.

It's no wonder, then, that when the time comes for the obligatory melodramatics and histrionics, first-novelist Wright handles them with a matter-of-fact delicacy and subtlety that makes you think of them in the context of her characters' lives, not the context of all the other mysteries you've read. Regional fans should keep an eye out for this one. Kirkus Reviews

Murder descends on one of the last American towns where the unlocked door amounts to a philosophical principle. Murder's scary, but the people of this tiny Vermont farming community are tough-fibered. Coping is what they're used to, resourcefulness bred in their bones.

Watch Ruth Willmarth, for instance, as she fights to keep farm and family together against odds that would give sophisticated gamblers the giggles.

Earthy, funny, hot-tempered and sexier than she knows, she's the glue for this admirably crafted first novel. Philadelphia Inquirer


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