I need another book like a hole in the head, but sometimes I can’t resist a good story in a spooky rural setting with ghosts, feisty female characters and a good old-fashioned whodunit. That’s why I love Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Sidra Smart mysteries. She may not be a household name like Heather Graham or Nora Roberts, but this talented Texan writes like a pro – and I’m just so glad I stumbled upon her books that fateful day at the Texas Book Festival!
I have a theory for why the big publishing houses haven’t signed her on. You see, just like show biz, publishers have to appeal to the masses, and that means gorgeous long-legged protagonists, formulaic plotlines and contrived love triangles. Sure these bestselling authors occasionally include a senior citizen, but the old folks are typically the token “zany granny.”
Never one to follow the lead, Dickey Smith’s books are a welcome departure from the norm. Boo Murphy, the leading lady in “Swamp Whisperer,” is by far one of the most unique protagonists I’ve come across in crime fiction. She’s cranky, obstinate, and full of piss and vinegar! She’s completely insufferable, but when you peel back the layers, it’s hard not to find a soft spot in your heart for this overgrown tomboy.
The mystery begins when Boo paddles out into the alligator-infested bayou and finds an Atakapa-Ishak brushwood hut. Considering that the Native American tribe of alleged cannibals disappeared from the Texas and Louisiana coastal regions centuries ago, it’s downright impossible for a hut to still remain standing.
All is not well, the cold rain whispered. Boo looked around, expecting to see a ghostly figure floating across the swamp, but no one was there. This time she knew she hadn’t been imagining things – of that she was most convinced.
To prove she’s not going senile, she grabs her prissy cousin Sasha and heads back out into the murky water in search of the hut. After a boating mishap, they seek refuge in a spooky cabin, where they stumble upon a ghostly apparition and find a frightened woman trapped underneath a dead body.
After a thorough interrogation, the woman reveals that she’s a part of a covert anthropological project. Under the guise of research, an egotistical professor and a group of scholars are recreating the site of an Atakapa-Ishak village. Is this legitimate scientific research, or a self-serving treasure hunt? Good thing Boo was able to pocket that mysterious map from the dead man’s cabin.
Things get complicated when Boo’s beloved hound and cousin go missing. Someone knows she has the map – and Boo needs to piece together the clues to rescue her loved ones and save the sacred silver mine from desecration. With some help from an ethereal spirit within the swamp, she finds the strength and courage to track down the killer…and learns a bit about herself in the process.
The wind’s embrace seeped into her pores and stirred her insides. She sucked in a deep breath, allowing the dampness to fill her lungs with every particle of oxygen available to her. She held that breath as long as she could, hating to let it go, for never before had she felt so strongly that she and the swamp were one entity with one purpose – but what that purpose was, she hadn’t a clue.
Listen, the wind warned. The swamp is at risk, can’t you tell?
I’ll stop right here before I give too much away. If you’re into atmospheric whodunits, I implore you to read this book! What I really love about this author is her knack for character development. Through Boo’s grumbling self-dialogue, readers can feel her strong bond with nature and emphasize with her resistance to love and be loved. Oh how I love Boo! We don’t get many heroines like this one in crime fiction – or any other genre for that matter – but we should. Though this is a Sidra Smart mystery, this is really Boo’s time to shine. But don’t fret; the book sporadically touches on Sidra’s misadventures as she road trips with her eccentric aunt to Santa Fe for a wedding. I won’t give too much away, but I will tell you there’s ghosts involved!
If you’ve never read a Sylvia Dickey Smith book, this one will draw you into the fold. Her love of Southeast Texas comes through in her luscious descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of the swamp. At times I began to wonder if perhaps she might be a swamp whisperer herself!
If you’d like to meet this fabulous author, she’ll be at the Texas Book Festival, which is happening this month. I can’t wait!!!