Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Poisoned Ground"

Sandra Parshall grew up in South Carolina and has worked as a reporter on newspapers in South Carolina, West Virginia, and Baltimore. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a long-time Washington journalist, and three cats.

Parshall applied the Page 69 Test to Poisoned Ground, the sixth Rachel Goddard Mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 is part of a quiet scene with a lot of subtext. A major developer wants to build a sprawling resort for the rich in Mason County, my fictional community in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The proposal divides locals who see the project as an economic boon to a struggling community and those who want to preserve their rural way of life. Families are divided by offers of big money for farmland on which to build. A husband and wife who refused to sell have been murdered, and Sheriff Tom Bridger suspects that their son Ronan, who desperately needs money following the collapse of a business venture, might have engineered the killings so he could inherit and sell the land. In this scene, Ronan has just arrived in Mason County from Richmond, where he currently lives.
Tom sat behind his desk, waited for Ronan to cry himself out, and struggled to keep the barricade up against the memory of his own parents’ deaths and the grief that had overwhelmed him. He forced himself to mentally check through the questions he had to ask. And he reminded himself that until he was cleared, the Kellys’ son was as much a suspect as anybody else.

At last Ronan quieted, pulled a handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiped his face. He ran his fingers through his thick hair, which left it looking worse rather than better. Like Tom, he had inherited coal-black hair and olive skin from a Melungeon parent. “I still can’t believe this has happened.” Ronan’s voice broke on the last word. He paused a moment, took a breath, and went on, sounding a little calmer. “Driving out here, it was surreal, trying to get my mind around it.”

“Can I get you anything? Coffee?”

Ronan shook his head. “I’ve had so much caffeine already I’m about to jump out of my skin.” He sat forward, his face beseeching. “Tell me you know who did this. Tell me you’ve got him in custody.”

“I wish I could. But right now…” Tom shook his head.

Ronan slumped back in his chair and leaned his forehead in his palm.

“When will Sheila be here?” Tom asked.

“Tomorrow. She’s flying to Charlotte from Chicago, and I talked her into taking a hotel room and getting some sleep before she drives up here. I don’t want her driving through the mountains at night when she’s…God, I don’t even know what to call it, the way we’re both feeling. Shocked. Stunned.”

“When was the last time you talked to your parents?”

“Last Sunday. I try to call them once a week.”

“Did they say anything to indicate they were having problems with anybody?”

“Besides Jake Hollinger, you mean? That’s all I ever heard from Dad lately, when he got on the line. But Mom, no, she never complained about anything or anybody. She got along with everybody.”
Is this page representative of the entire book? No, it’s one of the quietest points in a novel filled with escalating conflict. This is the only time the reader will see Ronan Kelly behaving in such a civilized fashion. He’s hotheaded and determined to get his share of
the money out of his parents’ estate. He clashes with his sister and with Tom repeatedly and remains a prime suspect.

This page doesn’t feature Dr. Rachel Goddard, my main protagonist and Tom’s new wife, whose probing uncovers hidden connections between people in the community — at the same time her vocal opposition to the resort development makes her a target of threats.
Learn more about the book and author at Sandra Parshall's official website.

The Page 69 Test: Disturbing the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue