A Killing at the Creek | Book Review


“All in the world Elsie Arnold wanted was a murder case,” and in A Killing at the Creek, Nancy Allen gives her one.

This is the second crime novel in Allen’s series of mysteries set in fictional McCown County in southwest Missouri. Like the first novel, The Code of the Hills, Allen’s writing is pitch-perfect in its depiction of the Ozarks, right down to a throwaway mention on page 116 of the Assemblies of God—“No drinking, no cussing. No dancing”—which is headquartered in Springfield. (I’m an AG minister and Springfield resident.)

Elsie Arnold is an assistant prosecutor in McCown County, and she wants to try a murder case to advance her career. The problem is that her boss, Madeleine Thompson, hates her and takes the case herself, assigning second chair to Chuck Harris, the newly hired chief assistant from Kansas City. (Newly hired in no small part to block Elsie’s advancement.) But when police capture a suspect, who’s a 15-year-old juvenile from St. Louis, Thompson and Harris get cold feet and had Elsie the legal briefs.

The suspect, Tanner Monroe, is an unlikable kid who insists on an ODDI defense (“other dude did it”). His cagey defense lawyer, Billy Yocum, seeks a “MD or D” defense—“mental disease or defect”— since there’s no evidence of the other dude, but Monroe refuses to cooperate. What starts out as a strong case gets weakened due to questionable prosecutorial decisions and Elsie’s romantic entanglement with Bob Ashlock, the detective running the investigation. Will these errors doom Elsie’s prosecution, or will she close the case?

I liked this novel in most respects. What Sue Grafton did for Santa Barbara in her Alphabet Mysteries is like what Nancy Allen is doing in these Ozark Mysteries. The book has a strong regional flair, the plot is believable, and the legal ups and downs of the story reflect the author’s years as a Missouri prosecuting attorney.

Even so, the last few pages have a deux ex machina feel to it. Allen drives the story line forward and then, seemingly out of nowhere, she takes the solution of the case in a suddenly different direction. To this reader, that ending just didn’t set right.

Still, I liked the novel and read it in one sitting. I look forward to reading the remaining two books in the series and hope more are forthcoming.

Book Reviewed
Nancy Allen, A Killing and the Creek: An Ozarks Mystery (New York: WitnessImpulse, 2015).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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Review of ‘X’ by Sue Grafton


xSue Grafton, X (New York: Putnam, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

X is the twenty-fourth installment in Sue Grafton’s long-running Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Set in Santa Teresa, California—a lightly fictionalized Santa Barbara—the novel follows two story lines: Kinsey looking for a client’s long-lost son and trying to close out a late colleague’s still-open case. There’s also a contretemps with her annoying, elderly neighbors.

I am a huge fan of this series, having read each of the novels in order, beginning with A Is for Alibi. Patrick Anderson has written, “Grafton’s Millhone books are among the five or six best series any American has ever written.” I agree. Kinsey is likeable, whip-smart, and plucky. You cheer for her as she sees justice through in each case.

That said, X is the best novel of the series. (I wonder if it has to do with the difficulty of finding a suitable crime to include in the title. The other novels follow the A Is for Alibi title formula. Here, there’s no X Is for _____.) It opens with one story line but spends the bulk of the novel focused on the other story line. The lines never come together, and the annoying neighbors seem like a distraction too. The neighbors get what’s coming to them in the end, but of the two major storylines, only one reaches a satisfactory resolution.

X may not be the best novel in the series, but it’s always good to hear from Kinsey. I’m already looking forward to Y.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.