Bleeding Through

  • Sandra Parshall
  • Poisoned Pen Press
  • 250 pp.

A murdered law student, an unexpected visit and the parallel relationships between two sets of sisters set the scene for the fifth Rachel Goddard mystery.

Reviewed by Susan Storer Clark

Two dozen teenagers arrive to pick up the trash in a ravine in rural Mason County, Va., but they barely get started when they find a large, heavy trash bag — a bag with a human body in it. The body is that of someone they all know, Shelley Beecher, the older sister of one of the girls. The chaperones of the excursion, Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger and his significant other, veterinarian Rachel Goddard, try to hurry the teens back on the school bus and away from the scene. But the kids are excited, snapping pictures with their cell phones, and they are oblivious to the pain of their overwhelmed classmate.

Sandra Parshall’s fifth in her Rachel Goddard series continues with a complex mystery to be solved and a focus on the emotional effects felt by her main characters and others in their small town. Shelley was a law student from Mason County, who was trying to establish the innocence of a local man convicted of murdering another local, Blake Hadley. Shelley’s work had enraged Hadley’s relatives. Did one of them kill her? Or was she right, and did Hadley’s real murderer silence her forever?

As Rachel and Tom try to find out more about Shelley’s murder, Rachel copes with a sudden visit from her own sister, Michelle, who is fleeing a stalker. Then someone starts to terrorize Rachel: calling her, breaking into her office and leaving a dead rat, and painting “You’re Next” on her car windshield. Is it Michelle’s stalker? Is it someone who tried to kill Rachel a few years ago?

Parshall ratchets up the tension: local people take sides, either trying to help or hinder the investigation. Is one of the neighbors the stalker? The murderer? Is there more than one stalker, more than one murderer? Hadley’s relatives escalate their threats. The parents of the convicted murderer, isolated by their community, don’t want to talk about the case.

The title Bleeding Through refers not only to literal bleeding but also past occurrences that affect the story and the case. Rachel and Michelle share a secret about the woman who raised them, the woman they thought was their mother but in fact had kidnapped them from their birth mother. The actions of Michelle’s stalker closely echo those of the man who tried to kill Rachel. The relationship of Rachel and Michelle is echoed in that of Shelley and her younger sister. The old murder case continues to echo and resonate throughout the community.

Parshall says she considers her books to be a blend of several genres: thrillers, dark mysteries and suspense novels. Bleeding Through blends a complex mystery with suspense from an obvious threat, conflicting clues and the darkness of human emotions. The animals in Rachel’s practice provide welcome relief from and contrast to the complicated humans around them, from the yellow Lab who leans against his master’s leg as if propping him up, to the guinea pig who lifts his dish to beg for food.

Shelley’s murder turns out to have involved a twisted series of motives and actions, a bizarre agreement, and some incompetence by the authorities. Bleeding Through is a taut, absorbing read, with enough threads left loose at the end for readers to eagerly anticipate the next entry in the series, and thoroughly enjoyable on its own.

Susan Storer Clark is a frequent contributor to The Washington Independent Review of Books. She recently completed The Monk Woman’s Daughter, a historical novel set in 19th-century United States. Ms. Clark has been a member of the Holey Road Writers for more than 10 years, and is a former broadcast journalist and a retired civil servant. She and her husband Rich live in Silver Spring.

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