Pickard, Nancy 1945–
Pickard, Nancy 1945–
Born September 19, 1945, in Kansas City, MO; married Guy Pickard, 1976 (divorced); children: one son. Education: Missouri School of Journalism, bachelor's degree in journalism, 1967.
Home—Prairie Village, KS. Agent—Meredith Bernstein Literary Agency, 470 West End Ave., New York, NY 10024.
Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (president, 1988-89).
Anthony Award, 1985; Macavity Award, 1988, for best novel, for Marriage Is Murder, 1989, for a short story, 1992, for best novel, for I.O.U., and 2007, for best novel, for The Virgin of Small Plains; Agatha Award, 1990, for best novel, for Bum Steer, and 1991, for I.O.U.; Shamus Award, 1991, for short story "Dust Devils"; Edgar Award nomination, 1991, for I.O. U., and 2001, for The Whole Truth.
"JENNY CAIN" MYSTERIES
Generous Death, Avon (New York, NY), 1984.
Say No to Murder, Avon (New York, NY), 1985.
No Body, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
Marriage Is Murder, Scribner (New York, NY), 1987.
Dead Crazy, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.
Bum Steer, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1990.
I.O.U., Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1991.
But I Wouldn't Want to Die There, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Confession, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Twilight, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995.
"MARIE LIGHTFOOT" SERIES
The Whole Truth, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Ring of Truth, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Truth Hurts, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.
"EUGENIA POTTER" SERIES
The Twenty-seven Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.
The Blue Corn Murders, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
The Secret Ingredient Murders, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2001.
(Editor) Malice Domestic 3: An Anthology of Original Traditional Mystery Stories, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor) Mom, Apple Pie, and Murder: A Collection of New Mysteries for Mother's Day, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 1999.
Storm Warnings, Five Star (Unity, ME), 1999.
(With Lynn Lott) Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment (nonfiction), Ballantine (New York, NY), 2003.
The Virgin of Small Plains (novel), Ballantine (New York, NY), 2006.
The Scent of Rain and Lightning, Hodder (London, England), 2008.
Work appears in anthologies, including Cat Crimes for the Holidays, 1997, and Mary Higgins Clark Presents "The Plot Thickens," Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997. Contributor of numerous short stories to periodicals.
Ten of Nancy Pickard's lighthearted mysteries feature the investigative exploits of the lovely and chirpy Jennifer Cain. As the director of the Port Frederick Civic Foundation in a small Massachusetts seaside town, Cain encounters a variety of foul play, including arson, suicide, and murder. According to Marilyn Wallace in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, "Pickard's novels provide outstanding examples of the new direction the traditional mystery has taken. Affectionate intimacy with the narrator, richness of characterization, and the judicious use of humor draw readers time and again to the Jennifer Cain series."
In Cain's first case, Generous Death, she uses her brains, sense of humor, home computer, and handsome police officer boyfriend to crack a case involving a series of wealthy patrons who die under mysterious circumstances. In Say No to Murder, a small-town waterfront mall project provides the backdrop as Jenny Cain tells her story in "a somewhat stumbling, over-explanatory first-person narrative," to quote reviewer Douglas Hill in Toronto's Globe and Mail. But, Hill continued, the novel "does well with the local color and characters."
After 1986's No Body, "a wickedly funny expose of funeral-business scams," according to Jean M. White in the Washington Post Book World, Pickard's Marriage Is Murder turned to a grim topic, battered wives who may or may not be killing their husbands. This uncharacteristically serious subject, wrote White, "casts a shadow over Pickard's witty and bright style," but the author does provide some amusing touches along the way. Dead Crazy, the fifth Jenny Cain mystery, drew mixed reviews. When Cain tries to buy an abandoned church to make over into a recreation center, she encounters community opposition, not to mention two brutal murders. Reviewer Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review found numerous unrealistic details, while conceding that perky heroines who effortlessly solve murders come with the genre.
Pickard's next mystery, Bum Steer, is a case involving a strange bequest to Jenny Cain's foundation, one that takes her to the Crossbones ranch in Kansas and other places far from her coastal Massachusetts home. Next, in I.O.U., the detective probes into Cain family matters in a first-person tale that offers insight into the heroine's character. Confession finds Jenny reacting in shock when she discovers that her husband unknowingly fathered a child during a brief fling some years before.
The now-teenaged son turns up to ask his cop father to track down his mother's killer, a task that leads to a deadly group of cultists. "Pickard," wrote Emily Melton in Booklist, "just gets better and better. Her heroine, Jenny Cain, gains wisdom, depth, and strength of character, and Pickard's plots, never run-of-the-mill to begin with, are increasingly insightful, thoughtful, and provocative."
Jenny is almost overwhelmed in Twilight when a fall festival she has organized for Port Frederick is plagued by odd deaths, protests, and assaults. The several story strands eventually come to a satisfying conclusion to reveal unexpected relationships. "Jenny's telling observations on love and marriage, family and friendships and small-town politics add texture to this well-wrought puzzle," wrote the critic for Publishers Weekly. Melton concluded in Booklist that Twilight is "a nicely paced, nicely plotted mystery that makes a perfect read for a chilly fall evening." Twilight was the final title in the "Jenny Cain" series.
In 1993 Pickard was chosen to complete an unfinished story, Virginia Rich's The Twenty-seven Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders. Rich, who died in 1984, had written three popular and much-imitated culinary mysteries and was working on a fourth at the time of her death. The novel concerns elderly Eugenia ("Gena") Potter, a widow who serves one of her renowned meals—after which three of the diners drop dead. Eugenia takes off on the trail of the villain who poisoned her entree. Wallace found that "Pickard admirably fulfills the promise of repartee, revenge, and recipes with this book."
In The Blue Corn Murders, Eugenia returns in what Rex E. Klett in Library Journal called a "riveting tale." Visiting an archaeological dig in Colorado leads Eugenia to investigate a brutal murder involving Indian artifacts. Klett admired the story's "delightful plot, colorful surroundings, and solid prose." A critic for Publishers Weekly pointed out that Pickard "ably blends Native American history into a modern murder mystery."
Pickard continued her mysteries featuring Eugenia Potter in the 2001 title, The Secret Ingredient Murders, which finds the intrepid if unwilling detective-chef spending the summer at the Rhode Island coastal town of Devon, her hometown. There she comes to the aid of various relatives, especially her great-nephew Jason, who becomes a prime suspect in the killing of local civic leader Stanley Parker, an old friend of the family. A second murder stirs things up even more in this novel filled with "mouth-watering descriptions of such Rhode Island specialties as doughnuts and ginger bread," as a contributor for Publishers Weekly noted. Reviewing the same title in Books 'n' Bytes, Harriet Klausner found it to be a "gourmet's delight."
From the adventures of Eugenia Potter, Pickard turned her hand to a trilogy of mysteries featuring true-crime writer Marie Lightfoot. The first of the series, The Whole Truth, is, according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "a fast-moving thriller that literally starts with a bang." Lightfoot is covering the trial of Raymond Raintree, who is accused of the kidnap and murder of a six-year-old girl. The case arouses Lightfoot's attention not only because it was committed in her Florida hometown, but also because of the bizarre nature of the crime: the uneducated Raintree cut out the girl's pineal gland. Raintree escapes after a violent altercation at the trial, and the book subsequently goes back and forth between Lightfoot's book about the trial and the manhunt and subsequent recapture of the fugitive, leading to a strange reversal at the climax. The Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Whole Truth a "stunning synthesis of psychological suspense and commentary on our culture of celebrity." Laurel Bliss wrote in the Library Journal that the novel was "an enjoyable read, if a trifle tame." Higher praise, though, came from Booklist contributor Barbara Bibel, who observed that the novel is a "mixture of mystery and thriller that will appeal to readers of both genres."
Marie Lightfoot reappears in Ring of Truth, a "second installment [that] is as fresh and satisfying as the first," according to a critic for Publishers Weekly. Again Lightfoot is writing about a murder in her hometown of Bahia Beach, Florida. The local minister, Bob Wing, and his lover, Artie, have supposedly killed the minister's wife. Now Wing is on death row right next to a prisoner he was, as an anti-capital-punishment activist, trying to have freed. Lightfoot cannot help but feel something is wrong with the case. As she begins investigating on her own, she discovers discrepancies and is able, at the eleventh hour, to stop the execution. The Publishers Weekly reviewer called Ring of Truth a "marvelous behind-the-scenes thriller." Similarly, a contributor to Kirkus Reviews commended both the author and her novel: "Like Agatha Christie in her prime, Pickard uses her characters' relationships to craft a puzzle that's a joy to solve."
In the third installment of her books featuring Marie Lightfoot, The Truth Hurts, Pickard gives her protagonist a near-impossible task. Lightfoot is suddenly the focus of a newspaper story claiming she is a racist and that her parents, supposedly liberal Southerners, were as well. The person responsible for the story subsequently sends her an e-mail and demands that Lightfoot write about him and how he is going to murder her. If she does not, he will start killing those closest and dearest to her. Lightfoot then sets about trying to detect the identity of this person who signs the e-mail Paulie Barnes, and get to the truth about her long-missing parents. Booklist reviewer Connie Fletcher noted that the "plot here never sets a foot wrong." A critic for Kirkus Reviews had a mixed assessment of this installment, noting: "Though she hooks readers with her extraordinary premise, Pickard never quite lands them." But a contributor for Publishers Weekly had praise for the book's "attractive secondary characters, vivid Florida setting, a keen sense of history and a singular plot device."
Pickard's The Virgin of Small Plains tells the story of Abby Reynolds, a small-town Kansas resident who inadvertently uncovers the truth behind a long-cold murder investigation. A blizzard that seems similar to one that took place nearly two decades earlier, when the body of a murdered woman was discovered in the snow, serves as a catalyst for Abby's investigation. Teresa L. Jacobsen, writing for the Library Journal, called the stand-alone mystery "an absorbing tale of love and deceit." A critic for Kirkus Reviews found the book to be "a quietly fashioned, credible tale about the loss of innocence." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that "some cleverly planted surprises and the convincing portrait of small-town life make this a memorable read."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, May 15, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Confession, p. 1645; September 1, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Twilight, p. 6; April 15, 1998, Wilma Longstreet, review of Say No to Murder (audiobook), p. 1460; December 15, 1999, Karen Harris, review of The Blue Corn Murders, p. 798; January 1, 2000, Barbara Bibel, review of The Whole Truth, p. 885; July, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of The Truth Hurts, p. 1828.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 3, 1985, Douglas Hill, review of Say No to Murder, p. 8.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2001, review of Ring of Truth, p. 631; June 1, 2002, review of The Truth Hurts, p. 775; April 1, 2006, review of The Virgin of Small Plains, p. 320.
Library Journal, August, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of The Blue Corn Murders, p. 138; February 1, 2000, Laurel Bliss, review of The Whole Truth, p. 121; January 1, 2001, Rex Klett, review of The Secret Ingredient Murders, p. 162; April 15, 2006, Teresa L. Jacobsen, review of The Virgin of Small Plains, p. 68.
New York Times Book Review, December 11, 1988, Marilyn Stasio, review of Dead Crazy, p. 34; March 4, 1990, Marilyn Stasio, review of Bum Steer, p. 35; May 5, 1991, Marilyn Stasio, review of I.O.U., p. 24; January 3, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Twenty-seven Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, July 29, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Dead Crazy, p. 223; July 5, 1993, review of But I Wouldn't Want to Die There, p. 65; May 9, 1994, review of Confession, p. 65; September 4, 1995, review of Twilight, p. 53; July 13, 1998, review of The Blue Corn Murders, p. 65; April 12, 1999, review of Mom, Apple Pie, and Murder: A Collection of New Mysteries for Mother's Day, p. 57; January 31, 2000, review of The Whole Truth, p. 84; November 6, 2000, review of The Secret Ingredient Murders, p. 73; June 4, 2001, review of Ring of Truth, p. 61; June 24, 2002, review of The Truth Hurts, p. 43; August 5, 2002, Dorman T. Shindler, "The Third Stage of Evolution," p. 48; March 20, 2006, review of The Virgin of Small Plains, p. 35.
Washington Post Book World, October 18, 1987, Jean M. White, review of Marriage Is Murder, p. 8.
Writer, July, 2004, Steve Weinberg, "Self-Help Guide to the Writing Life Gets It Right," review of Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment, p. 45.
Books 'n' Bytes,http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (July 25, 2003), Harriet Klausner, reviews of Ring of Truth and The Secret Ingredient Murders.
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (July 25, 2003), G. Hall, review of Ring of Truth.
Crescent Blues,http://www.crescentblues.com/ (July 25, 2003), Suzanne Frisbee, review of The Blue Corn Murders.
Mystery Reader,http://www.mysteryreader.com/ (July 25, 2003), Kay Black, review of The Blue Corn Murders, and Jennifer Monahan Winberry, review of The Whole Truth.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online,http://www.postgazette.com/ (April 16, 2000), Barbara Vancheri, review of The Whole Truth.
Romantic Times Online,http://www.romantictimes.com/ (July 25, 2003), Toby Bromberg, reviews of The Whole Truth, The Ring of Truth, The Truth Hurts, The Blue Corn Murders, and The Secret Ingredient Murders.
Under the Covers,http://www.silcom.com/ (July 20, 1998), Harriet Klausner, review of The Blue Corn Murders.