“Poisoned Ground” is the sixth book in the popular Rachel Goddard Mystery series. The first book in the series “The Heat of the Moon” won the Agatha for Best First Mystery. Rachel Goddard is a veterinarian whose practice is located in a fictional town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

I heard Sandra Parshall speak at Bouchercon in Albany on a panel about strong women characters. She impressed me as did her main character. I couldn’t wait to read one of her books.

But this isn’t just fun read. It deals with the significant social issues of development and jobs versus the rights of homeowners to keep their property and farm country undeveloped. The book highlights the problems that arise when all the homeowners whose property the developers want don’t want to sell. It also looks at personal lives and the secrets that people keep.

As the story opens, on a routine veterinary call, Rachel finds her friend Joanne McKendrick standing on her front porch with a shotgun in her hand pointed at a man in a business suit. The man is a big developer who wants to buy her property and turn it into a sprawling resort for the wealthy. Joanne doesn’t want to sell and feels very pressured by the developer.

As the battle heats up over the development, tragedy starts to befall the community. Is it because of the development battle or something else?

As I read this book, I was reminded of another of my favorite authors, Rita Mae Brown. Two of Brown’s series are set in Virginia and feature strong female protagonists and animals. I admit that one series that Brown writes with her cat, Sneaky Pie, has some anthropomorphism, which is not present in Parshall’s books.

I really enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it. I struggle to come up with one feature that stood out as it is strong on so many different levels. The characters are complex and we continue to see the various layers evolve as the story progresses. The descriptive writing about the setting made me understand why people were so connected to the land. The plot was complex and surprising keeping me guessing until the end.

Five stars out of five.

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In accordance with FTC guidelines for reviewers, I would like to clarify that this book was provided to me by the publisher free of charge.  I am not compensated by the author or publisher for my review. All they expect is an honest review of the work.