Show Me the Murder by Carolyn Mumford. Five Star. Publication date: February 15, 2013. 328 pages, $25.95. ISBN: 978-1-4328-2688-8.
When Phoenix Smith, who’d been working undercover for the CIA, is shot in Istanbul and given medical leave, she returns to her hometown, Laycock, Missouri, to see her oldest friend and arrange to sell her mother’s house. On her arrival she becomes the comforter instead of the comforted when she learns that her friend Annalynn Keyser’s husband, Boom, the local sheriff, has been found dead in a sleazy motel room with a young Hispanic woman, Maria Lopez, in what the Sheriff’s Department is calling a murder-suicide. Annalynn, though grief-stricken, is outraged at this assumption. She knows her husband would not have been sexually involved with, or have killed, Maria, and she is sure he wouldn’t commit suicide. She begs Phoenix to help her prove that Boom was victim, not killer.
Still in pain after her surgery, Phoenix agrees. A third friend, Connie Diamante, insists on being involved. Phoenix uses her considerable shooting and detecting skills to work out what actually happened while keeping as much of her real situation from her friends as she can, as well as hiding her sharp shooter skills from the local deputies.
Annalynn talks her way into the role of temporary sheriff. Connie gets people to talk to her, and Phoenix finds a wounded, trained Belgian Malinois police dog, whose response, when taken to the motel where the shooting occurred, convinces Phoenix that Achilles had witnessed what happened and would be able to identify the real killer.
Once Achilles, who’d been slightly wounded and left for dead, is rescued and healed, he sticks close to Phoenix and protests mightily when he’s separated from her.
There is suspense here, gun battles, and a car chase, but what I enjoyed most were the relationships between the three friends and between them and other characters, including the dog. Mulford has a real talent for showing how people change, how they influence each other, how they learn to trust and change their minds in good ways. I also liked the authentic presentation of the tension between Phoenix’s cynical inner voice and how she speaks and behaves to others, how she works out whom she can and can’t trust. Her gradually strengthening attachment to Achilles, when had been convinced that she does not need a dog, is endearing.
The plot is deftly handled, with lots of puzzles for the reader, and the ending is both a surprise and satisfying.
Five Star has published a winner, and I understand another book in the Phoenix Smith series is in the works.
I grew up on a farm near Kirksville, Missouri, the fictionalized setting of my first middle grade/young adult novel, The Feedsack Dress. During the summer I worked in the fields and garden, pumped water for the milk cows, and read books that carried me far away.
About the fifth grade the urge to write stories overtook me. A few years later I learned that few writers earn a living writing novels. That knowledge and experience on my high school and college papers prompted me to earn a Master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri.
Before taking my first job as a magazine editor in Washington, D.C., I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, teaching English and helping build a school for lepers. On my way back to the States, I traveled for six months in the Middle East and Europe.
One intriguing city I visited was Vienna, Austria. I returned there to work for the United Nations until the bureaucratic writing drove me to quit. Again I spent six months returning to the States, traveling through Asia and Australia.
Settling in Washington, D.C., I edited a national magazine on service-learning and then became a freelance writer and editor. I wrote hundreds of articles, four nonfiction books, and a variety of other nonfiction materials. I edited several national newsletters, most notably Writing That Works. From 1990 to 2011, it served as a monthly “desktop seminar” for corporate writers and editors.
A few years ago I revived my childhood dreams of creating my own worlds. I moved back to Columbia, Missouri, to focus on historical fiction for young readers and, my current emphasis, contemporary mysteries for adults. My mystery series begins with Show Me the Murder (February 2013) and Show Me the Deadly Deer (December 2013).
Photo by Rex Rogers, 2008.