cover image Murder@Maggody.Com


Joan Hess. Simon & Schuster, $22 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-684-84563-0

The latest Arly Hanks mystery (after Misery Loves Maggody) proves once again the author's mastery of light-hearted country humor. The tiny Arkansas town of Maggody is in an uproar because one of the local high school teachers has obtained a grant to set up a computer lab for students and citizens. The move toward new technology provokes a fiery debate in the town hall, where the mayor's wife argues that the Internet's easy access to smut makes it the work of the devil. But when the computers and a systems operator arrive, everyone flocks to see the town's Web site, including a 17-year-old named Gwynnie. She and her infant son have just moved to Maggody so she can live with her aunt while studying for her GED, and more than one young man is smitten with her good looks and helpless predicament. But when Gwynnie is murdered and the town's e-mails are tainted with pornographic pictures that flash on the screen for a moment, then disappear, some residents think the devil has indeed arrived and taken up a religious crusade against the new computer lab. It's up to level-headed police chief Arly Hanks to find the earthly causes to both crimes. In order to do so, she must dig into Gwynnie's mysterious past, question a gaggle of trailer park locals and investigate the system operator's shaky marriage--all while trying to quell the detective tendencies of her mother, Ruby Bee, and her friend Estelle. Maggody's eccentric inhabitants and Hess's comic touch infuse this cozy with a refreshing dose of spunk, resulting in another triumph for both small-town America and Hess. (Jan.)