Defiance County

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Kelsey Thatch stopped prosecuting personal crimes for the district attorney in Houston because she found herself in dilemmas concerning the nature of right and wrong. After several years prosecuting the less troublesome property crimes, the young, attractive attorney is called in as a special prosecutor for a double murder in a small Texas town. She soon becomes aware of just how small the town is: Everyone in town knows the particulars of the case, and the local district attorney is both the brother of the prime suspect in the murders as well as the brother-in-law of one of the victims.

Everyone in town seems to like Billy Fletcher, who is accused of killing Lorrie and Ronald Blystone. Billy manages the undergarment factory that provides most of the town’s employment, and Ronald had been trying to convince the factory’s owner, Alice Beaumont, to consider new ideas, including the possibility of moving operations out of town. Such ideas made Ronald unpopular with almost everyone in town, particularly Billy, who saw his job in jeopardy.

Kelsey thus finds herself trying to collect evidence against a popular suspect, with few people willing to help her. She is unimpressed with the Texas Ranger assigned as her assistant. Eventually she enlists the help of local police officer Peter Stiller, who is obsessed with the case because the Blystones’ baby was taken away from the murder scene and has not been seen since.

A large portion of the book details Kelsey’s investigation and familiarizes the reader with the characters. Kelsey finally gets an indictment against Billy, only to find her major arguments for his guilt falling apart. She is faced once again with a dilemma of whether to try to prosecute someone who may be innocent. The multiple climaxes provide quick reversals of the plot as Kelsey embroils herself deeper in the double murders and the town’s personalities. Although the plot twists are surprising, they are believable and provide a dramatic conclusion difficult to stop reading.