cover image The Rosewood Casket: 9

The Rosewood Casket: 9

Sharyn McCrumb. Dutton Books, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94011-1

Two missing children, unscrupulous land grabbing (past and present), a shooting, a manhunt and visits from both an angel and a ghost are rendered with little suspense or mystery in McCrumb's fourth ballad novel, following the bestselling She Walks These Hills. As Randall Stargill lies in a coma in a Tennessee hospital, his four sons-a career soldier, a car salesman, a country singer and a naturalist-gather at the Appalachian family farm to prepare for his approaching death: while the men work on the handmade coffin daddy wants, their wives (one is a girlfriend) sew a quilt to line it. Old Nora Bonesteel, a neighbor and clairvoyant, brings something to tuck into Randall's coffin: a small box containing a child's skeleton. Sheriff Spencer Arrowood can't persuade Nora to tell whose bones they are; that trickle of frustration turns into a flood of bad luck when an oily real-estate developer enlists Arrowood's assistance to evict a neighboring family from their debt-encumbered farm (land that was originally swiped from the Cherokee, as McCrumb notes). The shooting of Sheriff Arrowood is a crime unrelated to the question of whose bones are in the box, though both issues are eventually resolved in the same mountain location. With few characters to care about and its low punch and puzzle quotients, this bland and cobbled tale is a miss for the accomplished McCrumb. 75,000 first printing; Mystery Guild and Literary Guild selections. (May)