Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O: Review

Sharyn McCrumb's If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (1990) is set in the small Appalachian town of Hamelin, Tennessee where Spencer Arrowood is the Sheriff who keeps the peace. It's not a difficult job most of the time--an occasional run-away or teenage boy with excess energy stepping out of line; a few drunk and disorderlies...that's pretty much it. Then Peggy Muryan purchases the old Dandridge home. The moderately popular folksinger from the '60s is looking for a quiet place to compose new songs and set the stage for a comeback.

But the peace and quiet doesn't last long. Peggy begins receiving postcards with lyrics from various folksongs which she had once made famous. As Sheriff Arrowood points out to her, the lyrics as printed are scarcely threatening--but Peggy knows the lines that come next and the haunting, ominous nature of the lines not written are worse than those which appear. Then Peggy's dog is killed and marked with an insignia of some sort--butchered in a commando-style that has indications of a link to Vietnam. The dog's death is followed by a sheep--also left with clues referring to Vietnam. 

Things really get serious when a high school girl goes missing and winds up murdered--for Rosemary Winstead bears a striking resemblance to Peggy Muryan at the height of her career. LeDonne, Spencer's Vietnam vet deputy, doubts the Vietnam connection because the clues left behind in each case are too scattered. They point towards several different military units. Peggy, meanwhile, keeps getting those cards, and they seem to implicate her former singing partner, Travis Perdue--except es that Travis was a Vietnam casualty, an MIA. Is it possible he returned to the States after all? Why would he kill nice, young Rosemary? Who else had a motive?

[Possible spoiler ahead!]
I find the ending deeply disturbing and unsatisfying. Which, honestly, is what I believe McCrumb wants. Many of her characters are disturbed--whether they are haunted by a past that never was quite like they remember it or a past that changed them forever or if they are caught up in their interest in a past that was never theirs. Portraying the psychological dilemmas of the various characters is probably McCrumb's strongest gift in her writing. It certainly isn't in the crime plotting itself. I found the motive fairly unbelievable--quite probably because the killer's psychology is the least examined. The character appears regularly, so the fair-play side of me can't holler "No Fair! X isn't even a real suspect." But I can't say that I'm believing in X as the villain. It also doesn't help that Arrowood doesn't really figure anything out and does very little in the investigative line. We find out who the killer is because s/he appears in Peggy's house and spills out a confession in a burst of bragging. Otherwise, I just don't see this crime being solved. 

The setting is grand and the Appalachian background well-done. Most of the characters are well-rounded, interesting, and believable. One just wishes the villain were included in "most." A decent mystery with an intriguing set-up and lead-up to the final chapters. If the promise had been fulfilled, I would have given it a higher rating--as it is...★★


Shalet Jimmy said...

Sounds like I should go for this. I always loved mysteries when there are a small town and a house where one of the main characters stay. I didn't want to read the spoiler alert. But couldn't resist my curiosity.

Loved the post


Bev Hankins said...

Thanks! If you do give it a try, I hope you enjoy it. It seems to get high ratings on Goodreads.

Clothes In Books said...

I read this years ago, but remember little of it, and also read others in the series, and certainly can't distinguish between them. I liked some elements of her style,and very much liked the ballad theme in this series. But I think I also had some complaints like those you mention...