Book Report: In A Dark Season

Local author Vicki Lane‘s latest installment in the Elizabeth Goodweather mystery series, In A Dark Season (Dell, 2008), comes out this May.

Like her heroine, Lane came to WNC in the 1970s, settling onto a farm with her husband and children. Like Goodweather, she knows a thing or two about quilting, animal husbandry and mountain lore. Though Season is her fourth novel, she’s been writing professionally for less than a decade. In 1999 she co-authored a how-to book on quilting. The following year she attended a fiction writing class led by fellow WNC novelist Bill Brooks, and it was in that class that she first created the character who would star in her Marshall County-based series.

Though I can’t quote from Season (I have the advance proof on my desk; quotes have to be checked against the as-yet-to-be-finished book), I can say that it’s the best of Lane’s work so far. Where the previous installment, Old Wounds, was at times overly complex, plot-heavy and wearing with its italicized passages and memory vignettes, these same elements serve Season well. It seems that Lane is mastering her craft, and kudos to her. The author’s inclination to blend multiple stories from a variety of characters, locales and time frames runs the risk of schizophrenia. But in Season, Lane proves her instincts are spot-on; it just took her to this point to fine-tune the formula.

The story is of several cold-cases: Two missing persons, an arson, an attempted suicide and an accusation of rape that all come to a head. Would-be sleuth Goodweather finds herself in the middle of the action, trying to unravel a handful of seemingly unrelated back stories. And, though she can’t make sense of the drama unfolding, she lends her own detective skills to assist her boyfriend (an honorary cop) and her nephew’s girlfriend (a young woman with a dark past). Goodweather’s snooping takes her to the spooky old cabins and white water rivers of Marshall County. There are mentions of Hot Springs, Weaverville and Asheville, which make it a fun read for local book enthusiasts. In fact, at times the characters — artists, good ol’ boys, raft guides — seem eerily familiar. For history buffs, Lane has also thrown in a thread of a story from the late 19th century, linking an antiquated tale of murder to the contemporary story she crafts.

Season is not without its flaws. The italicized passages marking thought (as opposed to speech) are odd and often interrupt the flow of the text. The culmination of events leading to the books’ conclusion (I won’t ruin it with specifics) are a bit far-fetched, and the mountain-speak is a questionable choice. For readers not from the area, the written interpretation of the accent might be interesting, but then again, whole chapters filled with “a-tall,” “hit” (for it), “yaller” and phrases like, “I just have to hug yer neck” smack of poking fun. Lane isn’t, and perhaps the decision to instill her characters with backwoods lingo was necessary for authenticity, but dialect conveyed through phonetics is always a tricky territory to navigate.

Overall, Vicki Lane’s latest novel is an exciting page-turner, and the cliff-hanger of an ending is sure to please (and tease) readers hoping for a next installment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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