Murder and Moonshine by Carol Miller
Murder and Moonshine by Carol Miller (Minotaur, 2013) starts me off on a not-quite-rant about what I consider to be lazy plotting. Here we have a spunky young woman who got married but her husband done gone and run off for who knows what reason. This leaves our hero somewhat in an emotional and financial mess. To add to her woes, her daddy and daddy-in-law died — in the early stages of the book, no-one quite gets around to explaining how they died — and her mommy is not in the best physical and intellectual state. So as the book gets underway, we meet Daisy Hale McGovern who makes the best peach cobbler “between Charleston, West Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina.” For the record, our cobbler-maker is a denizen of Glade Hill, which is a spot on the map of Southwestern Virginia rather than a real town with streets and folk who tip their hats to eat other as they pass all sociable-like on the sidewalks. No, this is a one-horse piece of countryside in which natives barely rising above the level of characters from Deliverance (1972) make moonshine and believe it’s better to shoot first and never ask questions about who or what they hit.
Daisy works in the diner established by her father and a partner. One day, she’s fending off Rick and Bobby Balsam when in staggers Fred Dickerson. He expires on the floor before he can do more than order a burger. This disrupts the smooth-running of this food emporium as ambulance and police (husband and wife team in this backwoods area) descend (not from the trees, you understand). EMT wife pronounces the death suspicious — usually people only die after eating the food in this diner — which brings in the forensic team from the nearest outpost of civilisation. As and when the autopsy report gets kicked upstairs, ATF Special Agent Ethan Kinney arrives looking for places he can’t find on his map.
So here comes my problem. In all the time since the double daddy death scenario, Daisy has never been back to the scene of their deaths. It’s all too painful. This hasn’t stopped the local gossip mill from deconstructing events and deciding who was to blame. Yet no-one seems to have shared this speculation with our hero before the book starts. She’s been living in a southern version of limbo waiting for a hunky AFT agent to arrive so she can do her “should I overcome my prejudices and admit I like the local darkly handsome Rick Balsam, or should I fall into the arms of this despicable version of humanity from the AFT (spits copiously on to the ground)?” How does this plot point come to the fore? Well the first thing AFT asks her to do is take him to the place where her daddies died, and who does she meet there but Rick drinking the deceased’s shine. There’s macho posturing and gun waving to prove they both have balls and not a lick of sense. And we still don’t know how our hero’s two daddies died and we’re halfway through the book. How can she have had absolutely no curiosity about this loss in her life? How come no-one took her to one side and told her what was happening? It’s completely ludicrous particularly because we’re now supposed to see her as an investigator cum sleuth who can crack all mysteries and solve all problems.
Grudgingly, I’ll admit the plot proves to have a slight surprise in the reason for all this mayhem. It’s amusingly cultural as “big business” meets hillbilly sensibilities in a region not properly serviced by cellphone towers or even properly mapped. However, the whole book is rather tiresome with the mandatory lurch into thriller territory with guns blazing and explosions going “bang” or something similar. There’s no mystery to solve. In true thriller style, the bad guy just waltzes into view and orders our hero’s death. You can’t get a more perfunctory whodunnit solution than that. So Murder and Moonshine proves pretty dire and not at all the kind of book you want to curl up with the next time you have a hankering for white lightning or one of the other more potent distilled products.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.