Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mad Dog and Englishman by J.M. Hayes

Once again, it took considerable time and contemplation to make my book selection.  First, I needed to fill in the "Kansas Book" slot on my Library Bingo card, which required a book set in Kansas or written by an author from Kansas.  (Score!  This book fits both categories.) 

Next I carefully considered the title/subject matter of the many books with a Kansas connection.  This one was shelved in the mystery section, that's a plus, and I was intrigued by the word-play of the title (from a Noel Coward line "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.")

And most important to my complex book-selecting formula - there's a picture of a grain elevator on the cover.  I'm sold.

The story takes place in fictional Benteen County, Kansas, where Sheriff English (or Englishman to his half-Cheyenne brother, Mad Dog) rarely encounters a crime bigger than a Saturday night drunk-and-disorderly.  When the Rev. Peter Simms is found murdered and scalped in the city park, the Sheriff gathers his Roscoe P. Coltrain-type deputies and their inadequate equipment and attempts to run a buy-the-book investigation.  The results are, at varying times, hilarious and frightning. 

But, don't let the Keystone Cops moments fool you.  This is a somber and disturbing story of abuse and secrets with touches of Native American shamanism thrown in.  The mystery centers around a complex family history that I have to admit I struggled to follow at times, but in the end all the threads were tied together. 

The story eventually included every rural Kansas stereotype - uneducated law enforcement, Indians, meddlesome townspeople, a grain elevator and, of course, a tornado. But it's obvious the author has a Kansas history and did his research. Each aspect was covered realistically, including the inner workings of the elevator, to make a unique thriller.  This book will interest mystery lovers and anyone with a "Kansas connection" of their own.

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