Catherine Linton became curious about the flies around the house her parents had rented out; her discovery of a bloated body was a shock, though not as great as the local sheriff's identification of the woman as Leona Gaites, who worked as a nurse for Catherine’s father for over thirty years, until his death in a car accident, alongside Catherine’s mother, six months earlier. Catherine had never liked Leona, but her curiosity was piqued. A reporter for the local paper, Catherine decided to dig a little deeper – in to the town where she grew up, and the people she had known all her life. One of them was a killer, and Catherine suspected Leona was not their only victim.
Sweet and Deadly is a recent re-release from 1981, and it shows, in two ways. Unlike many dated novels reviewed here (eg Dead Beat, Ice Station Zebra), the first is less by technology or fashion than community attitudes, to women and (more strikingly) blacks. Though this aspect did provide somewhat confronting food for thought, on each occasion I was rather forcefully jerked out of the narrative.
The second reminder that some thirty years have passed since Sweet and Deadly was written is the writing. Despite some concerns I’ve raised about recent novels in her long-running series, Harris is without question a more adept and able writer now than in her youth. The writing is clunky (eg “She itemised his heavy shoulders and thick chest, surprising on a man of his height”), the characterisation cursory even for our protagonist, the romantic secondary plot rapid and not particularly believable, and motive for what ends up being four murders seems like something of a stretch, though admittedly inventive and not one I’d previously encountered. It seems a little unlikely to me that Catherine could have put the pieces together as easily as Harris portrays, and her decision to confront the killer rather than involve the police doesn’t feel consistent with her character, but she’s not my creation.
I can’t say I’m sorry I read Sweet and Deadly (a title that bears no relation to the plot), but I didn't get the novel I hoped for. I suspect readers who know Harris primarily through the steamy television series based on her Sookie novels will be particularly disappointed, as there's not a single amorous scene here. All in all I think this is probably not a bad reminder of my decision to read my own books this year, with less recourse to the library. - Alex