Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review: Show Me the Ashes by Carolyn Mulford

Review: Show Me the Ashes.  Carolyn Mulford.  Five Star, A Part of Gale, Cengage Learning, New York, NY.  March 2016.  ISBN 13: 9781432831356. Hardback, $25.95. 319 pp.

In Show Me the Ashes, Mulford’s fourth novel in her “Show Me” series, P.I. Phoenix Smith quickly becomes involved with two investigations.  She hears the desperate tale of Beatrix Hew, a grandmother whose daughter Jolene confessed to killing Edwin Wiler in the Bushwhacker Den bar where she worked, and then setting fire to the building.

The case had been closed by Boom Keyser, her best friend Annalynn Keyser’s former husband, who took the confession. Phoenix knows that Annalynn, now acting sheriff, doesn’t want to hear that her dead husband made a bad mistake, so she begins a secret investigation, feeling compassion for the ailing grandmother and her grandchild Hermione.  The third member of this trio of old friends, Connie Diamante, insists on helping Phoenix.

Then Annalynn asks Phoenix to help her investigate some local robberies, and to keep Connie out of it.  Keeping all these secrets, plus her CIA background from the general public, proves quite a balancing act for Phoenix.

Phoenix’s dog Achilles plays a star role in the whole series, and with each book, he steals more of the show.  Phoenix’s former CIA experience helps her unravel a very complex plot, as well as her knowledge of small town Missouri people.  She must interview all those involved in the year-old murder and arson case: the Bushwhacker’s Den owner, the dead man’s lover, the fireman who found arson, and others.

The transformation that goes on in Phoenix’s attitude from feeling that there’s no way she can help Beatrix to taking more and more risks to do just that, hinges on how Phoenix allows her compassion for the child Hermione to keep her motivated when it proves nearly impossible to prove a different set of circumstances and events that led up to the death and the fire than the seemingly obvious conclusion Boom had reached when the case began.  The child and her love of Achilles becomes the pivot that makes it possible for Phoenix to loosen her perspective in both investigations and discover the truth.

What I love best about this series is the opening up of the characters living in a small Missouri town.  The plots are always complex and hard for the reader to unravel, but the characters stay with me.  One fiction teacher I had years ago said that the sign of a good book was its memorability.  Did it stick in your mind?  Carolyn Mulford’s characters stick in my mind.



Carolyn Mulford writes the award-winning Show Me mystery series. She set out to be a writer shortly after becoming a reader in a one-room school near Kirksville, Missouri but delayed her writing career to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. That experience fostered a fascination with other cultures that led her to work as a nonfiction writer and editor on five continents. She moved from nonfiction to fiction and from the Washington, D.C., area to Columbia, Missouri, in 2007. Her first published novel, The Feedsack Dress, became the state’s Great Read at the 2009 National Book Festival. Next came Show Me the Murder, Show Me the Deadly Deer, Show Me the Gold, and now Show Me the Ashes. To read the first chapter of these books and of the upcoming MG/YA Thunder Beneath My Feet, go to Harlequin Worldwide Mystery published a paperback edition of Show Me the Murder in June 2015.