Thursday, May 21, 2009

Signs in the Blood by Vicki Lane

Title: Signs in the Blood
Author: Vicki Lane
ISBN: 0440242088, Bantam Dell, 2005
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, #1 Elizabeth Goodweather mystery
Rating: B+

First Line: When Dessie Miller lay dying at home, her family overflowed the little house in a bittersweet reunion.

This marks the first time that I've read a book because I've been enjoying an author's photographs and posts on her blog. I first became acquainted with Vicki Lane's blog through a photography meme this past winter. I've had an almost daily dose of western North Carolina through her splendid photos and words. It didn't take Curious Cathy long to wonder about the mysteries Lane has written.

Elizabeth Goodweather is a fifty-something widow living on a farm in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. She's lived there for twenty years, running her herb and flower business, and she has become friends with many of her neighbors, but when Cletus Gentry goes missing, Elizabeth discovers how much she doesn't know about the land and people around her.

Cletus's elderly mother, Miss Birdie, is convinced that her childlike son has been murdered while out hunting for ginseng. She pleads with Elizabeth to help her find out what happened. As Elizabeth retraces Cletus's last wanderings through the mountains, she discovers fundamentalist Christians who use snakes in their services, an ultra conservative militia group calling themselves the Sons of Adam, and a commune that harks back to the 60s. With each discovery, she puts herself in more and more danger.

Lane's depiction of the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina and their people is wonderful. The cadence of the characters' speech was music to my ears. Woven throughout is the story of Little Sylvie, a young girl who lived in the area at the turn of the twentieth century. No one seems to know what ultimately happened to Sylvie, which bothers Elizabeth:

My god! I've lived here twenty years and still don't know what's on the other side of the mountain. But Cletus did.... I've got to help Birdie find out what happened. We can't let it be like the Little Sylvie story--just something that happened and it doesn't matter what the truth is. The truth does matter.

I really don't know what I expected when I began reading Signs in the Blood. If Lane's blog were any indication, I thought I'd enjoy the setting of the book. I enjoyed much more than that. Yes, the setting does play a large role in the book. It is a character unto itself. But the two-legged characters shine every bit as brightly: Elizabeth, who's let grief and widowhood blind her to the people around her; Birdie, a strong little mountain woman who's always done her best and puts her faith in Elizabeth to find out what happened to her son...even Little Sylvie, a young girl whose fate no one really seems to care about. They're all woven into a story that can mesmerize--just like those old mountains themselves.

When the time comes, I know I'll pick up the second book in the series, Art's Blood, with anticipation and pleasure.


  1. North Carolina is a fascinating place, the mountains are stunning, you must not tempt me with this and the book set in Asheville I have too many books already.

  2. Well, there is only one thing to say to Norman´s comment: if you don´t want temptations, you shouldn´t visit Cathy :O

  3. Another NC book? arghhh. ok. Now I have to check this out too.

  4. I have some vague idea in the back of my head that I'm going to read something set in each state of the US and I'm putting together a list. This one is going in the currently blank North Carolina spot. Thanks Cathy.

  5. Ooh, another new author. Thanks, Cathy!

  6. "A story that can mesmerize" - you really like this one. I like that the many character is 50 something and all the characters sound like real people. My kind of book.

  7. Uriah--thanks for stopping by. I've been to that part of North Carolina a few times, and I agree with you about those mountains. As far as not tempting you is concerned.......

    Dorte--That's me. A temptress. ;) don't *have* to! LOL

    Bernadette--Either Signs in the Blood or Blackman's Coffin. Both are good and represent the area quite well.

    Jenclair--You're welcome!

    Margot--I agree. Characters with some age and experience, as well as sounding like real people!


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