Best known for the hilarious Southern romp Handling Sin (just released in paperback), author Michael Malone has shown a unique ability to question what he calls the moral, political and social dimensions of the old South versus the new, while at the same time telling entertaining and well-crafted stories. After an absence of more than 10 years, Malone returns to the popular detective duo of Uncivil Seasons (1983) and Time's Witness (1989). In First Lady, he has created another irresistible blend of mystery, romance, heartache and revenge in an appealing Southern setting. Hillston, North Carolina, home of Haver University, has been praised by both the governor and the press as being one of the safest small towns in the state. Hillston's reputation and the reputations of the local police chief, Cuddy R. Mangum, and his best friend and chief of homicide, Lt. Justin Savile V, are called into question when a second nude female body is found mutilated in the woods outside of town. The killer leaves a body tag on each victim addressed to Justin and Cuddy, making the case a personal challenge. The mayor and the local press, attracted by the sensational nature of the murder, seem intent on impeding the progress of the case. The fact that the deputies in the local sheriff's department act like the Keystone Kops at crime scenes doesn't help matters. The sheriff's office is also the cause of another headache for Cuddy. The only son of one of the town's best families was arrested for shooting his pregnant wife on New Year's, and the sheriff's department tainted the evidence so badly that a not guilty verdict is inevitable. In desperation and frustration over the mounting bad press, Cuddy announces that he and his department will find the serial killer the press has dubbed Guess Who in a week or resign.

As with his previous detective novels, Malone has again created a cleverly constructed plot along with imperfect, nuanced characters. Justin, who drinks a bit too much, loves old things and considers the homogenization of his hometown a travesty, while Cuddy has been, and will always be, in love with the one woman he can't have. Their banter is believable, smart and funny, filled with references to Colonel Sanders and other things uniquely Southern. Michael Malone's return to this intrepid pair of detectives and their colorful small town life will delight armchair detectives everywhere. His characters, their relationships and the fictional town of Hillston charm long after the final page.

Pam Kingsbury lives and writes from her hometown of Florence, Alabama.

 

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