Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review: Great Smokies by Sandy Dengler (Jack Prester #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and a good mystery…
Cons: …that gets a little sidetracked occasionally along the way.
The Bottom Line:
Poison at potluck
But victim just first target
Fourth fun mystery

It’s a Prestigious Job…To Die For?

I really do need to make more trips to the eastern part of the United States.  There’s so much history and beauty I’ve missed.  Until I have the time and money for that to happen, I’ll stick with armchair travel, and one of those fun ways to travel in with Sandy Dengler’s Jack Prester series.  Great Smokies is the fourth murder he’s had to solve in a national park, and it’s another good book.

Jack is an investigator at large for the National Park Service, brought in when there is a high profile case.  He and his partner Ev Brandt seem to find themselves in plenty of danger as they try to learn what is happening.  And as we go along for the ride, we get to vicariously visit some beautiful locations and learn a little about what being a ranger in each location is really like.

For those who work in the National Parks, Great Smokey Mountains is considered one of the premier parks, so the superintendent of that park is one of the best jobs in the system.  Colleen Abcoff has had the job for the last two years – that is until she keels over dead at a potluck.  Since it looks suspicious, Jack and Ev are called in to investigate.

They’ve barely arrived when the temporary superintendent, Diane Walling, is shot in a drive by shooting.  Both women were hard to work for and had made lots of enemies.  They had also been supporting a proposal that would have drastically changed the park.  Is they why they were killed or was it someone they’d made mad over a personal issue?  Or does someone want their job enough to kill to get it?

There has been a strong story arc for Ev in this series, and it continues here.  She’s become a very different character since the first book, and the transformation has been a joy to watch.  Jack has grown, too, although it isn’t as drastic.  Still, both are wonderful characters that I love spending time visiting.

They pretty much make up the recurring cast.  (Well, human at least.  There is Jack’s dog Maxx.)  However, the suspects we meet in this book are strong and well developed as well.  It makes it much harder to guess the killer that way, so I’m always happy when that happens.

The plot gets a little sidetracked, however.  Along the way, we meet some characters who do play a part in the mystery, but Jack gets involved in their lives.  Another couple of sub-plots seem to slow things down rather than helping the overall book.  Still, everything does come together for a logical if fast conclusion, and it never gets stalled for very long.

Since Jack is a Christian, there is quite a bit of talk about prayer in this book.  I actually really welcomed this reminder about the importance of prayer and some of the thoughts about how it works.  Despite what I just said about the plot’s pacing, I don’t feel this aspect slows things down in the slightest.  Now, if I can just incorporate prayer into my daily life again….

Each chapter title in the book is from a previous published book or poem, and there are some pretty famous ones here.  That line is then incorporated into the first paragraph of the chapter as well, which makes for some fun reading.  It’s a gimmick, but one I enjoyed just as much now as when I originally read it.  And yes, that does mean the book starts off with the line you’d expect, but it really does work.

While the ebook edition is only a couple of years old, I reread the paperback version from 20 years ago.  While there are occasional references and plot points that seem out of date, the overall book holds together quite well.  Just remember the time frame when you read it and you’ll be fine.

So until I get to visit Great Smokies in person, I enjoyed this virtual tour of the park.  With plenty of fun and mystery to be had, this book makes a great vacation any time.

NOTE: This book was originally published as The Quick and the Dead.

If you want to watch the characters grow and progress, check out the Jack Prester Mysteries in order.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books, this week hosted over at Davy Crockett's Almanack.


  1. Sounds like a good book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. You are welcome. I certainly hope you enjoy the series.