Writer gives readers a new, likable sleuth

Writer gives readers a new, likable sleuth

"Show Me the Murder" by Carolyn Mulford is appropriately named: It's a murder mystery that takes place in the Show Me State, Missouri.

Mulford is a native Missourian who has traveled the world as a member of the Peace Corps before settling back in her home state and writing fiction.

In her latest book, she successfully incorporates mystery, murder and mayhem into her beloved home state to create a novel mystery readers will enjoy — mostly thanks to her strong heroine, Phoenix Smith.

How does Mulford make rural Missouri an exciting setting for a murder mystery? Careful plotting and interesting characters are abundant throughout.

Phoenix is a former spy who comes home to Missouri to rest after being severely wounded on assignment. Once home, her good friend, Annalynn, has a terrible problem that she turns to Phoenix to solve.

Annalynn's husband, Boom, was found dead in a hotel room with a young woman, and the police are ruling that it's, without a doubt, murder-suicide.

They claim that Boom, a sheriff, was having an affair. Annalynn seems to be the only person that doesn't believe Boom could have been cheating on her: She's sure he was murdered, too. She's counting on Phoenix and another good friend, Connie, to find the truth, clear Boom's name and bring the killer to justice.

Mulford includes excitement from the very beginning: An intruder breaks into Annalynn's house with a high-powered weapon.

Phoenix is sure that someone from the police department is involved somehow, and she's trusting no one as she tries to help her friend get to the bottom of what happened to Boom.

The author throws in a love interest for Phoenix, too, and a complicated past, which all work together to deliver a new, likable sleuth, who will hopefully grace the pages of more books in the future.

There's even an unlikely witness that mystery fans will love: a dog with a "bullet-torn ear" that is the only one that can identify the killers, with his sense of smell, of course.

One thing particularly enjoyable about "Show Me the Murder" for Midwest readers is the references to many places in Missouri. Since I graduated from Truman State University and had my first teaching position in Novinger, Mo., I never imagined a murder mystery would take place in this setting with the author naming familiar places, such as Thousand Hills Lake State Park, Kirksville, Milan and the Adair County Sheriff's Department. It's always fun to read books in a setting you know well and imagine the characters there.

Mulford grew up on a farm in northeast Missouri and majored in English and journalism at the University of Missouri.

Mulford's first novel, "The Feedsack Dress," is for children in grades 5-8 — and also set near Kirksville.

According to the author's website (http://www.carolynmulford.com), The Missouri Center for the Book selected Mulford's first novel as the state's Great Read at the ninth annual National Book Festival on Sept. 26, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Mulford is currently working on both a historical fiction novel for children and a sequel to her murder mystery. She also writes three blogs, which are all connected to her website.

The camaraderie and feisty spirit of Phoenix and her two friends are one of the strongest parts of this novel and are the reason why readers will pick up book two. The literary world needs strong, female characters, and Mulford has done an outstanding job of giving us a new one, based on her own experiences at home and while traveling the world.

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (margodill.com/blog/). Dill, a former Mahomet resident, now lives in St. Louis with her family.