Ruth Fried’s mutilated body is found hanging from a willow tree in the middle of a cornfield. The small town of Friendship, Wisconsin, handles this horrific crime like it handles everything else: It politely tidies things up and moves on.

With Ruth’s death, Kippy Bushman has lost the one person who could see past the superficial politeness endemic to Friendship. When Kippy receives Ruth’s nearly illegible diary, she learns some shocking secrets about her best friend. But the sheriff, who commands a fleet of police cars emblazoned with smiley faces, is pointedly uninterested in Kippy’s revelations. He has pinned the murder on Ruth’s hell-raiser boyfriend, Colt. Case closed.

Friendship is rich with oddballs, both charming and otherwise. Kippy’s father has raised her alone since her mother died, guiding her with a loving stream of psychobabble. Ruth’s older brother, Davey, has returned from military service overseas and is inflamed with PTSD.

Page-turning tension and cynical humor fuse as Kippy teams up with Davey to find Ruth’s killer. The vivid Wisconsin setting, serving as a stanchion of ordinary life, is continually violated by Kippy’s offhand revelations of unresolved violence, including her own bizarre past. Author Kathleen Hale’s first novel combines Hitchcockian eeriness, the quirky humor of Carl Hiaasen and the bruising romance of a “True Blood” episode.

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