Hard Rain

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By Samantha Jayne Allen; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

Drought-parched Garnett, TX, is hit by a deluge and battered by a flash flood with water swelling the Geronimo and Angel rivers as they converge.

Bethany Keller Richter would have drowned in the flood if a stranger hadn’t helped her grab a tree branch. He was swept away in the flood waters.

She had been staying in a vacation cottage with two married friends, Kendall and Michael Davis. When the flash flood hit, Bethany was thrown from the balcony of the cottage. The Davises were trapped in a bedroom and drowned.

Bethany’s husband, John David Richter, might have died, too, had he not been called away to the beside of a dying parishioner from Hillview Church.

When she decides to find the stranger to thank him – or to give condolences to his family —  it’s natural to turn to McIntyre Investigations. In Garnett, there aren’t many choices.  She’s known Annie McIntyre since grade school. McIntyre Investigations was founded by Annie’s grandfather Leroy and his former partner in the sheriff’s office, Mary-Pat Zimmerman.

Annie has just earned the hours to apply for a private investigator’s license. Leroy and Mary-Pat are offering her a partnership. Bethany’s job will be Annie’s first solo case.

All Bethany can say about the man who saved her is that he had long, light brown hair, looked like Jesus, had a blue rose tattoo and wore a t-shirt imprinted with the name of an animal shelter.

This is a classic police procedural where Annie, advised by Leroy, traces every trail to locate the mystery man.

According to the police and fire chiefs, there are no unidentified bodies and no reports of missing people.

Pastor Brad Little at Hillview Church tells her that man of that description may have gone to the church’s addiction recovery meetings. He might also have worked for Jacinda Moore, who with her late husband owned a construction company. They did work for Hillview Church and some church missionary projects in Mexico.

But Annie hears other rumors about Jacinda: her company keeps losing bids to rivals; she went AWOL for several days on the last church trip to Mexico; she’s amassing gambling debts and may be selling drugs.

When Annie goes to the Moore property, she finds a body missed by searchers. It’s Jacinda’s in a half-submerged truck. Annie quickly realizes it wasn’t the flood that killed Jacinda; it was a bullet to the head.

This is a mystery that seems to defy solution: a man who survives a flood but then disappears; a prominent citizen shot; overdoses, addiction, theft and insurance fraud connected to oxycodone, fentanyl and worse drugs; the effects of land development on a flood plain; and the dwindling life of Garnett itself.

Despite her own self-doubts, Annie is a dogged and disciplined investigator. She picks at the mingled strands of this mystery until the connections all become clear.

Like the last book, PAY DIRT ROAD, this one is atmospheric and flirts with the darker side of life: the survival of a fading small Texas town, fierce and unpredictable weather, change and family secrets.

Annie struggles for clarity about her future. She still has doubts about whether it was a good idea to return to Garnett after going to college out-of-state and racking up student loan debt.

Her cousin and former roommate is getting married. Her high school boyfriend Wes, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the geography department of nearby state college, is pushing to move in together. Annie is struggling to hold on to the space to be herself.

The mystery here is much stronger than in PAY DIRT ROAD. But Annie’s ongoing doubts seem less rational. Her achievements don’t seem to give her confidence and she paces through the same doubts about coming back to Garnett without resolution.

Change challenges Annie. As she says at the end of the book, “As much as I wanted to believe I knew this place like the back of my hand, the river never was the same, it was always changing, and while I was sure there was something to be gleaned from that, I only felt dizzy and a little blue as we walked. It took me a long time to understand the difference between owning a place and being of a place.”

The real question is can author Samantha Jayne Allen grow Annie into a confident character who can carry future mysteries with interest and distinction.

HARD RAIN was nominated for the 2024 Mystery Writers of America G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award.

The Author: Samantha Jayne Allen

Samantha Jayne Allen‘s first book, PAY DIRT ROAD, won the Tony Hillerman Prize for Best First Mystery Set in the Southwest.

Allen earned a master’s in fine arts degree in fiction from Texas State University. Her writing has been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Common, and Electric Literature.

Raised in small towns in Texas and California, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter.

#hardrain #samanthajayneallen #jeannettehartman


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