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If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (1990)

by Sharyn McCrumb

Series: The Ballad Novels (1)

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6121328,181 (3.61)32
From the author of She Walks These Hills, this is the story of Peggy Muryan, once a famous folk singer, who lives in a town in Tennessee. Someone is trying to frighten her, someone from her past. And Sheriff Spencer Arrowood is frightened too.

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» See also 32 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
The ending of this one veered away from what you'd expect (even once the mystery itself was solved), and I suppose I liked that. The writing didn't do much for me, though. It made me think that there are several types of writing, of which the list below is a subset:


  • Writing in which getting from point A to point B in the action is the main point and the author pulls it off fairly artfully or at least in a coherent way. I think some of the older hard-boiled mystery novesl I've read this year fit in this bucket pretty well. The point is the action, and the prose that gets us from A to B all makes sense, without much superfluity.

  • Writing in which A and B are less important than how the author writes about it (this tends to be my favorite).

  • Writing in which getting from A to be is what's important, and the author blunders through it kind of awkwardly, as if to fill time or pages between A and B.



This book felt like it had a lot of the latter in it. I see this most often in just bizarre statements or rationalizations for behaviors, or weird behaviors on the parts of the characters. I see it in incorrect facts. It's really annoying and makes me doubt in a way that the author is working in good faith. It feels in a way like padding out an essay to hit a word count when you've run out of stuff of substance to say. I didn't jot down any specific examples of this from McCrumb's book, but it's very much the feeling I had while reading it.

I also found it annoying that the author's introduction makes a fuss about how there's some intellectual heft to the book -- that you have to keep your brain turned on to read this one. Well, sure. There's some consideration of how we trat veterans; there's some consideration of our narratives around women. But none of it is terribly compelling or artfully done. A few literary quotes and what I guess she felt like were clever references in the text don't make a book intellectually hefty, and to suggest that they do seems a little self-aggrandizing and silly.

So, it's an ok book, but a bit disappointing given expectations the author set. It is at least a quick read. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
Suppose to be a mystery about someone threatening Peggy, a folksinger visiting the town, but more time spent on the town residents and a 1966 class reunion. Descriptions of personalities, previous issues in their lives coming back to bother them especially side effects of Vietnam War are setting the stage for future books. Peggy is getting messages from a MIA former lover that involves killing animals and more. ( )
  kshydog | Dec 13, 2020 |
A great introduction to one of my favorite character-driven mystery series. Even though I’d read this before and knew who the culprit was, I thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting the folks and sheriff’s department regulars in the mountain community of Hamelin, Tennessee. What I’d forgotten was how well this paid homage to Vietnam veterans and the challenges they faced even years after returning home. ( )
  wandaly | Sep 22, 2020 |
I really like the author Sharyn McCrumb. I have read several of her books and think she is a very good writer. This book, although well written, was not one of her best. It was very slow paced, and too easy to figure out who the killer was. I never really cared that much about any of the characters. There was some beginning romances that never really went anywhere. ( )
  readingover50 | Jun 11, 2019 |
In the small town of Hamelin in East Tennessee, plans are underway for the 20th reunion of the high school class of 1966. Sheriff Spencer Arrowood, his dispatcher Martha Ayers, and a few others remain in the old home town, but most of their classmates moved away. Gathering them back is stirring up memories that are not always pleasant---cliques and lost loves, boys who didn't make it back from Vietnam, and men who did. There have been the usual number of marriages and divorces, successes and failures, but not necessarily in the combinations that might have been predicted. And to complicate matters, someone is threatening a once-famous folksinger who has come to live quietly in Appalachia to try to write some new songs, and rejuvenate her career. At first the threats are subtle, and meaningful only to her, but they soon escalate in very ugly ways, culminating in the murder and mutilation of a local teenager. The music of the '60's, especially the folk music based on the Childe ballads, threads its way through the novel, cleverly informing the story line. This is the first of McCrumb's "ballad novels", and it was a dilly, with a nifty twist at the end that topped it all off. I've read a couple of these before, without realizing that they were a true series, with overlapping characters and all. I remember enjoying the others, but they didn't grab me the way this one did. I intend to re-read both of those, in order, as I proceed with the series; I suspect I'll like them better for that. McCrumb is promising to fill in the void that will be left when I've finished all of Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott novels, which strum the same reading chords for me. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | May 10, 2017 |
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From the author of She Walks These Hills, this is the story of Peggy Muryan, once a famous folk singer, who lives in a town in Tennessee. Someone is trying to frighten her, someone from her past. And Sheriff Spencer Arrowood is frightened too.

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