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Parshall's "The Heat of the Moon"

November 8, 2013 - Jodelle Greiner
I received "The Heat of the Moon" by Sandra Parshall amongst some other books and didn't have any expectations for it. It didn't take me long to learn I'd found a little jewel.

Even though both Rachel Goddard and her sister Michelle are in their 20s, they live with their mother in McLean, Virginia. On the surface, it makes sense, Michelle is still in college and Rachel is just starting out in her veterinary practice; Mother's house is large and as a successful psychologist, she can afford to have them. But Rachel has always sensed something underneath Mother's carefully immaculate and ordered life. Certain subjects are forbidden to discuss because they will earn Mother's disapproval, her cold withdrawal. But there's one subject Rachel must talk about — her father. Dead for years, Rachel has no memory of him and there are no pictures of him, except the one on Mother's dresser, no pictures of the four of them as a family. In fact, there are no baby pictures of either Rachel or Michelle.

Worse, scenes flash into Rachel's head, images she can't explain, images that don't fit with the life she's had with her sister and mother. Unable to help herself, Rachel delves deeper, defying Mother, and sets them all on a course from which they can't turn back.

Parshall unfolds this psychological mystery little by little, expertly peeling back layers one at a time and building on each new revelation. She allows the reader to suspect different scenarios to explain first the father's death, then the other aspects Rachel uncovers along the way. But it's never really what the reader thinks it is. Just like Rachel, you see the secrecy and control, but never glimpse what's hidden behind it, until the pieces fit together and it’s too late.

Parshall leads the reader along different pathways, but never leads them astray with unexplained red herrings. All the roads come together in the end, adding up to a thoughtful conclusion.

There are no easy answers here. Some readers will agree with Rachel, others not. But "The Heat of the Moon" is a study of how far people will go to maintain the life they want, and what price everyone pays when secrets come to light.

Rachel is back in “Disturbing the Dead.” Some sophomore outings fall flat, but Parshall hits it out of the park again. You gotta love a book that starts out with the sentence, “He wanted the skull.”

Mason County is a rural, mountainous area with secrets of its own. One of the biggest is the disappearance of Pauline McClure, a decade ago. Captain Tom Bridger with the Sheriff’s Office is driven to solve the case and not just because he and Pauline are both Melungeon, a group of mixed-race people that have faced discrimination in the county for generations. Pauline’s disappearance was the one case Tom’s dad, John, couldn’t solve.

When bones are found on the mountain, Tom thinks he’ll finally get the answers, but all he gets are more questions when a second set of bones are discovered. Is one body Pauline? Then who is the other? Who would have killed them? And why?

Rachel is starting over with her veterinary practice and trying to put down roots, but an urgent call could destroy her world and send her running again. She thinks she can handle it on her own, until Tom enlists her help in getting a young woman away from her abusive family and her job working at a diner that’s a front for the local drug trade. Holly loves animals and Rachel gives her a job at the clinic, but Holly’s grandmother insists she has to come home. Rachel recognizes the psychological control Mrs. Turner wields and is determined that Holly won’t be subjected to it again. As Holly’s family exerts more pressure to get her back, Rachel and Tom realize someone will go to any lengths to keep their secrets buried, even kill again.

Once again, Parshall spins a spider’s web of mental gymnastics. The list of suspects is long, but she keeps you guessing who killed Pauline and why until she reveals the true depth of the deception and depravity that drives people.

If you want challenging whodunits, check out the five-book series about Rachel Goddard. For more information about Parshall or her books, visit online.


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