When a high-profile attorney is found murdered in her car and wearing a wedding dress, there will be immense pressure on local police to solve the case. But for Memphis detective Billy Able, the need to find the killer is more personal: Caroline Lee was the daughter of Saunders Lee, Memphis lawyer and plantation owner, and Billy has known the family since childhood. The Lees often stopped in his uncle’s diner in rural Mississippi to eat and discuss politics. For Billy, “Mr. Lee represented the best part of the old South culture—honor, civility, and integrity.” In Lisa Turner’s new mystery, Devil Sent the Rain, Billy must find a murderer, a task that will cause him to reassess everything he thought he understood about the victim and her family.
Billy and his partner, Frankie Malone, have no shortage of leads, beginning with a recently-paroled man who says he came across the car and may have stolen some money from the victim but certainly didn’t murder her. Caroline had broken off her engagement to a prominent surgeon who may have been stalking her. Her mother and brother seem more concerned with protecting the family firm than with mourning Caroline. A cousin who works at the firm was seen having an argument with Caroline the day she died and has spent most of her life living in Caroline’s shadow. Then there’s a newly-hired lawyer who has been out of town since the murder.
And if all that were not enough, Caroline’s alcoholic second cousin, Judd Phillips, shows up with a file about the disappearance of another cousin five years earlier; he thinks the two events may be related: “They both hooked up with a really bad man when they were at Rhodes College,” he says. “The investigator I hired believed the guy was involved in Finn’s disappearance. He’s been incarcerated but now he’s on the loose.”
Turner is adept at creating the atmosphere of a noir mystery. Readers can feel the exhaustion and frustration of Billy and Frankie as they chase leads and come up against dead ends. Even the innocent can claim to be innocent only in the case of this specific crime. Each of the suspects seems credible, and the end of the novel is both unexpected and satisfying.
Devil Sent the Rain is also steeped in the atmosphere of the Old South, when plantations owners seemed like minor royalty and maintained a disproportionate sense of their own worth. Able’s uncle had planned for Billy to go to law school and “become a lawyer like Saunders Lee, expecting him to raise up the Able name in the eyes of the community.” When Billy decides to become a police officer instead, his uncle orders him to leave and never come back. Although Billy recognizes the poverty and racism that resulted from the plantation system, he has still managed to hold out respect for the Lee family. By the end of the investigation, he must face the fact that such a system leaves no one unscathed.
Lisa Turner has written a fast-paced mystery that’s is a pleasure to read—although readers may hope she gives Billy and Frankie a nice vacation before she sends them out on the mean streets of Memphis again.
Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in nineteenth-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.