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    Review of DEATH SPLITS A HAIR by Nancy Bell


    Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Minotaur, March 2005

    When his friend, barber Joe Junior McBride, is murdered in his home, the Sheriff and Judge Jackson Crain quickly realize it is an inside job. Although Joe Junior was a popular man in town, obviously he had at least one enemy. Could it have been his angry son, Three? Or perhaps his step-daughter? Maybe Joe Junior's brother, who has been known to be attracted to the new widow, is the culprit. Maybe it's Joe's new assistant--a beautiful woman who appeared in Post Oak from nowhere and who quickly fell for Joe. Of course, the spouse is always high on the suspect list--although in this case, since Joe Junior left everything to his son, the problem there is motive. When Joe Junior's step-daughter vanishes from Judge Crain's home (where she was visiting Crane's daughter), Crane becomes even more involved in the case.

    Although Crane wants to solve the case, he has a busy life, leaving only limited time for investigations. First, there's his former girlfriend, Mandy, whose feelings Crane hurt in an earlier case. Then there's the aging man in the house across the street who insists on wandering off and may need to be committed. When a stranger with a duplicate of Joe Junior's face comes to town and starts squiring Mandy, Crane is baffled and bewildered.

    In DEATH SPLITS A HAIR, author Nancy Bell (see more reviews of novels by Bell) gives us more a picture of a town than that of a mystery. Small-town Texas might have its murders, but it's also a place where everyone knows everyone else, where funerals are opportunities to share favorite dishes and dish gossip, and where children can be raised far from the dangers of the city. But, as the town of Post Oak learned with its supposed millionaire who was actually broke, even a small town can hide its horrible secrets.

    DEATH SPLITS A HAIR requires quite a few suspensions of disbelief. For me, the biggest was the lack of reaction when teenage girl Ashley vanishes. Rather than the entire town turning out (with massive help from the major networks seeking twenty-four hour 'missing white woman' coverage), the town seems to shrug its shoulders and get on with its life. The actual motivation for the murder also seems weak. Still, Nancy Bell's pleasant 'down-home' writing and the sense of place make this an enjoyable novel.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 6/20/05

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