Before Stephanie Plum there was Arly Hanks, chief of police in the town of Maggody, Arkansas, population 755. Licking her wounds from a divorce and loss of her marital New York City penthouse, Hanks has returned to her roots, where her mother Ruby Bee owns the local diner and motel, and where everybody in town has a story so strange only Joan Hess can tell it in this reprint of her 1987 novel.
At 34, Hanks spends her days carving a duck from a block of wood and dealing with a police force of two, one of which is desperate to join the state police. When the town council and Mayor Jim Bob kidnap an EPA bureaucrat to stop a new law that will pollute the town’s creek, Hanks is the last to know, even when it turns out her mother is part of the operation. As Hanks digs deeper into the kidnapping, and an associated tragic murder, we meet some of the most interesting and nutty characters ever to step out of a novel, with nary a computer, tablet or cellphone in sight.
Sometimes a trip to Maggody, where like a Sue Grafton novel, the 21st Century is still years in the future, is necessary in order to understand that in our recent past, friendship and family, even laced with outrageous backwoods eccentricity, were more important than anything else. An importance Chief Hanks (and Joan Hess) is not afraid to acknowledge.
(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)