The Scent of Rain and Lightning★★★★
Ballantine Books, 2010
I was browsing in my library’s fiction stacks one day when I came across Nancy Pickard’s The Scent of Rain and Lightning. Let me just say I was smitten from the start as you’ll never meet a bigger sucker for a great cover or even better title. I’ve been cruelly disappointed using this method to ferret out books in the past, but I’ve also stumbled upon some real gems. I grew up in the Maritimes of Canada – Newfoundland to be precise – a craggy, fogged in island rock that’s bathed in the sun’s rays about 15 minutes every year. I’ve since transplanted myself to the Canadian Prairies and oh how I’ve fallen in love with the never-ending blue sky that stretches uninterrupted as far as any ocean, and the rolling flat prairie lying out as far as the eye can see. This is where land and sky come together with dazzling results. A common joke from these parts is you can watch your dog run away for three days.
The cover of this book grabbed my eye because it immediately reminded me of any grid road in southern Saskatchewan on a sunny day (of which there are plenty). The title charmed me – calling up my favorite things. You live through enough prairie storms and it doesn’t take long to realize that rain and lightning do indeed have a scent. At this point, I didn’t even care what the book was about I just knew I wanted to read it. Once I started reading it I was drawn into the landscape (small town Kansas) and to the characters that populated it – strong, rough, country people, hewn from the soil and forged through hard work. At the heart of this story is a murder that happens on a dark and stormy night, with the rain lashing the earth and lightning sundering the sky. A father is shot in cold blood, his wife is also presumed dead even though her body is never recovered. Their little girl – three year old Jody Linder – is left parentless, though not an orphan since her loving grandparents swoop in to raise and protect her, as well as three uncles who would do anything for her – Meryl, Chase and Bobby.
When the book starts, twenty-three years have passed since that horrible night and Jody is a grown woman about to embark on a career as a high school English teacher. She is looking towards the future until her past shows up on her doorstop one morning; it’s her three uncles with the news that the man convicted of killing her parents has been released from prison and is on his way back to Rose. The news is devastating and causes a ripple effect throughout the town’s inhabitants and shakes the Linder family to its very core. Because not everyone believes Billy Crosby is guilty of the crime he was sent to prison for – and now Jody’s life is shattered and everything she ever believed thrown into chaos, for if Crosby didn’t kill her parents, who did?
Once I started this story I couldn’t put it down. Not only did I have to know what the hell really happened that awful night, I became submersed in the lives of the people involved. Pickard has a way of writing that puts you into the story – I could see everything unfold as if it were a movie playing in my mind’s eye, and I love when a book can do that. Let’s just say more than once I could smell the scent of rain and lightning.