THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING is billed as a murder mystery, and certainly there is a murder, and a subsequent mystery at the heart of the plot. That's not all there is, however. Set in Kansas, where I understand Ms. Packard's from, the novel is also a terrific portrait of a people, a culture, a perspective and a way of life. It's clear she knows the territory well; there an effortless authenticity to the prose. These are 'folks'... plain speaking ranchers, hard-working, moral, and loyal whose simplicity of speech and lifestyle should in no way be confused with a lack of intelligence or sophistication. I liked these people, as portrayed by the author, and found myself wondering when I might be able to get to Kansas and spend some time. I also found myself thinking of Kent Haruf's PLAINSONG which, although that's a quieter, more emotionally complex novel set in Colorado, has a similar tone. The structure is also well done. The plot moves back and forth between the time of the murder and the present, and Pickard manages a number of perspectives well. True, perhaps some of the characters are a tad stereotypical, and in one of two spots the tension is marred by obviousness, but there are small quibbles. I wasn't familiar with Ms. Pickard's work before reading this book; I'll now look for her other books. She has been nominated four times for the Edgar Award, and I can see why. It may not be a book I'm going to remember five years from now, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.