The Woman in the Yard

Patty Osborne

I was eager to read Stephen Miller’s The Woman in the Yard (Picador) because I had enjoyed Miller’s previous mystery novel, Wastefall. His publisher did not respond to my requests for a review copy, but fortunately Miller is a neighbour of mine and when I ran into him at the grocery store he offered to lend me his copy. The cop in this story is Q.P., acting sheriff of Hanover County, North Carolina, who has come to the town of Wilmington via the northeastern U.S. and the war in Korea. The first victim is a young woman—“just a little nigger girl”—and the next is another black woman, the mother of two children, but the third is a white woman. The differences are even more explosive in 195s North Carolina than they are today, and as Q.P. digs into the tangled relationships within both the black and the white communities, we realize that the killer’s race is more important than his or her identity. When Q.P. is not hunting down the murderer, he is stumbling into a relationship with another outsider, the local librarian, and their sometimes awkward courtship helps to lighten up this dark story. Best of all, Miller’s descriptions and dialogue put us right there, in that place at that time, hearing the southern accents, sweating in the heat and feeling the tension of those first steps toward racial integration.

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