The Virgin of Small Plains

I picked up Nancy Pickard’s award-winning novel The Virgin of Small Plains eagerly and devoured every word. (Full disclosure: I read her blog and leave comments regularly.) I was not disappointed. The story started off strong, and though I didn’t realize it, it stayed strong throughout.

I didn’t realize it because I thought the plot got too twisted around itself with seemingly needless complications and revelations. In the end, though, it all fit. It all made sense, and I could tell that I had been in the hands of a master storyteller on every page. I just didn’t realize it.

The small town setting — in the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas — was much like many of Agatha Christie’s plots set on islands or trains. It kept the mystery focused on a limited number of characters with some truly tortured relationships and unspoken truths. Every character was credible, even the town drunk who was there for pretty much just one purpose, and the characters remained consistent throughout. (I hate it in novels when some character surprises everyone with a previously unknown talent that just happens to be needed for the plot.)

I especially liked the fact that there were no Nancy Drew moments. I know several mystery writers who follow the advice that all characters’ clothes must be vivid and must be described in vivid detail because how else could the poor reader possibly envision them? Usually this is an unmotivated description, and it often interrupts the flow of the narrative. Honestly, I think most readers will see and clothe characters however they want, despite what the author has said. But I rant. Character description and garmentry were blessedly minimal in The Virgin of Small Plains. When it did come up, it was usually seen through the eyes of another character who had some reason to take note of it. I like that.

There were a few instances of the There and Then/Here and Now difficulty that always jolts me. (When a character is said to be doing something “later today” it means something different to me than if it was said that the character would be doing something “later that day.”) And there were a couple of mixed metaphors that really punched me in the stomach, but, of course, I could not find them when I went back in search of them. Also, the story is set in a part of Kansas better suited to ranching than farming. There were a number of references to “cows” and think the word should have been “cattle” (assuming there were some boys in the herd). I’d think this would be the kind of thing an editor should have caught, but maybe I’m wrong.

If you haven’t read The Virgin of Small Plains and you’re looking for a well plotted mystery with honestly drawn characters in it (plus a worthwhile love story — gosh!), I can recommend this novel to you.

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One Comment on “The Virgin of Small Plains

  1. I enjoy reading each blog that mentions the Kansas Flint Hills. Thank you for sharing.

    Our 22 county Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, Inc. promotes visits to the Kansas Flint Hills – the website is:

    Best wishes!
    Dr. Bill 😉
    Personal Blog:

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