Pay Dirt

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The national news media is on the edge of collapse with the prospect that a new computer virus will finally reduce the American banking system to a mass of electronic sludge. Meanwhile, although the inhabitants of Crozet, Virginia, are mindful of the potential danger, the news of the moment is a romantic triangle featuring Norman Cramer, his new wife Aysha, and Kerry McCray.

Norman, plutocrat in training with the Crozet National Bank, was safely engaged to a fellow employee (Kerry McCray) when the newly vivacious Aysha returned to town. Norman was not an exceptional marital prospect, but Aysha mounted a successful campaign to carry him, somewhat bewildered, to the altar. Kerry McCray was mortified, but accepted the situation for a time. Eventually, much to the delight of those who revel in a neighbor’s misfortune, the latent hostility reaches volcanic proportions.

Millions go missing at the bank, people turn up dead, and Kerry McCray is the chief suspect. Although the townsfolk are of a mind that justice will soon be rendered, Mary Minor Haristeen is of a contrary disposition. With the help of her loyal pets, not that she notices, Haristeen once again unmasks the villain at the bottom of a rather convoluted scheme.

PAY DIRT marks a turning point in this series in that Brown is playing to her strongest suit. Thus, while the murders occupy center stage, “Harry” Haristeen’s personal life and Crozet itself are subjects of inquiry. Brown is familiar with the positive aspects of small-town life as few others are, and she is at her most enjoyable when such is the focus. There is not much to see in Crozet, Virginia, but what can be heard more than makes up for it.