Southern Exposure

Linda Lightsey Rice, Author
Linda Lightsey Rice, Author Doubleday Books $18.95 (338p) ISBN 978-0-385-26510-2
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-8041-0935-2
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In her first novel Rice presents a cast of passionate, colorful characters in a sultry, lush, Southern-gothic setting. Most of the residents of small, quiet Essex, S.C., know each other. Neighbors tend their gardens and leave the doors to their homes unlocked. City-dwellers like 30-ish engineer Stoney McFarland and his photographer wife Anna move to Essex to enjoy a simpler way of life--that is until Sarah Roth, a town matriarch, is found brutally murdered. Maum Chrish, a black woman who practices voodoo in the swamps, quickly becomes a suspect although there is no evidence to prove her guilt. Stoney has his own ideas about who murdered Sarah and he becomes obsessed with solving the crime. During one of South Carolina's worst heat waves, Stoney's suspicions draw the entire community, now paranoid with fear, into a dangerous investigation. Rice maintains a level of creepy suspense despite some awkward, overlong passages about sex and voodoo that sometimes lack credibility. Though the mystery is central to the plot, the identity and motive of the killer are not proven. But Rice's psychologically adept portrayal of a community suddenly forced to acknowledge evil, and her evocative use of atmospheric detail, make this an auspicious debut. (Mar.)
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