Nancy Pickard is a well-respected and competent writer of mysteries. The Scent of Rain and Lightning is an entertaining and suspenseful tome that is engaging and exciting. The novel opens as Jody Linder, a high school English teacher, sees her three uncles, Chase, Billy, and Meryl Tapper drive in to her house. She knows that something is amiss, but was not prepared for the news they were about to deliver. Billy Crosby, the convicted killer of her father and perhaps her mother, was being released from prison as a result of a judge commuting his sentence because of new evidence produced by his lawyer son, Collin.
The story then flashes back to the events that happened 23 years before and Pickard reconstructs the lives and times of the Linder family. Jody's grandparents, Annabelle and Hugh, are one of Rose, Kansas' largest landowners and wealthiest families. Their sons, Chase, Bobby, and Hugh-Jay, were to contribute to the ranch's operations. In the flashback, the reader also discovers that the Linders often gave opportunities to less fortunate and even delinquent boys in Rose to right their lives and become productive members of society. Billy Crosby was one of those boys. However, he just could not seem to throw away those habits that kept him and his family in a state of debt, namely his alcoholism and lack of anger management.
Pickard skillfully weaves the story around these characters to the extent that each does have his or her own voice. The description of Rose, Kansas is painted so that the reader knows exactly how the bar, the grocery store, the ranch and Jody's house look. The reader sees what influence wealth and prestige have even in the justice system. Would Billy really have been convicted if the victims were not Linders? And although some red herrings are tossed to the reader, the ending is surprising as we are witness to the actual crime that left Jody without her parents.