Little Pretty Things (review)

Little Pretty Things
Lori Rader-Day
Seventh Street Books

I don’t read mysteries. Never liked ’em. Except when I like them as  here or here  or even here. And of course there’s my beloved Flavia. So maybe I’d better rethink this mystery thing, right?!

Lori Rader-Day’s Pretty Little Things is a pretty straightforward murder mystery from about page 40. Juliet Townsend works a dead end job in a dead end life: she still lives at home with her mother, barely makes enough to make ends meet as a motel housekeeper, and hasn’t had a boyfriend in years. Once a promising high school track star, Juliet found herself running in place at age thirty. She had hoped to go to college on an athletic scholarship–but that was before her best friend and teammate  Madeleine Bell’s crisis kept them from competing in the state finals. Then, only a few weeks later, Maddy is off to college early right after graduation, leaving Juliet in the dust. Bitter, Juliet remains mired in the emotional muck of thatPretty Little Things spring even ten years later.

And then one night Maddy walks into the Mid-Night Inn where Juliet works and rents a room. Over a quick beer, they talk, and still resentful of her losses, Juliet rebuffs Maddy’s attempts to reconnect. Juliet finds that Maddy is everything she is not. A chic big-city gal. Confident. Put together.

Until she’s found dead. And then Juliet has to figure out whether or not Maddy was who she appeared to be.

Because of their tense meeting that night and their rivalry in high school, Juliet is immediately a suspect. And like so many good mysteries, the suspect turns detective to clear her name. In the process of finding that truth, Juliet also discovers that her understanding of her world as a sixteen-year-old was far from clear–she had to relearn her friend’s story as well as her own.

I do love writers who set their stories in the Midwest and that may have been part of my love for Little Pretty Things. The novel takes place in the fictional Midway, just outside of Indianapolis and the characters are true to their Midwestern roots. (Juliet’s mom makes her macaroni and cheese when she gets home from work; porch lights flicker on at dusk; nearly everyone lives in the shadow of their highschool self.) But the Midwest is not all church potlucks and homecoming parades–Rader-Day brings the dark, unseemly side of small town life and high school athletics to light.

When I do read that occasional mystery, I find myself guessing nearly every other chapter–he’s the murderer. Or maybe it’s her. Or him. And my measure of a good whodunit? When my guesses are nearly always wrong … but juuuuust close enough for me to hear the author whisper gotcha! as I turn to that last chapter.

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