Some writers ease the reader into their story, but Nancy Pickard dives right in with The Scent of Rain and Lightning. By page six, she has set up the framework of her novel and by the end of the first chapter, the reader is hooked on a tale of murder, mystery, family and love.

Jody Linder is infamous in the town of Rose, Kansas. On a dark and stormy night 23 years earlier, someone shot and killed Jody’s father; her mother disappeared and is presumably dead. From that night on, three-year-old Jody Linder was a girl with a story. Now Jody’s three uncles have upsetting news: Billy Crosby, the man convicted of killing her parents, has been released from prison and granted a new trial, thanks to the effort of Billy’s lawyer son, Collin. After years of comfortably living with justice—knowing the man who killed her parents is behind bars—Jody’s world crumbles as everything she has believed is thrown into question.

If anyone can understand the notoriety surrounding Jody, it’s Collin. The same town that coddled Jody treated Collin like a pariah as the two grew up side by side. Despite avoiding each other for their entire lives, Jody and Collin have a connection, and with this new case, Jody begins to see that hers was not the only life affected by this tragedy.

Against the backdrop of a small town like Rose, the reader understands how one event can define both a town and its people’s history. The standout feature of this novel is Pickard’s creation of complex characters that are deeply tied to history and setting. The characters are flawed, possessing feelings that aren’t resolved and struggling with the idea of accepting a new version of the truth. Pickard constructs a puzzle of interlocking events into which, as the story progresses, we slowly see how each character fits. The Scent of Rain and Lightning grabs you from the beginning, and Pickard holds you until the end, keeping you guessing the whole way through.

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