I have a special fondness for stories about far from perfect, less than amazing characters. Throw in an insular small town setting and I’m generally hooked–which certainly proved true with mystery thriller Little Pretty Things; I could barely put the book down to get on with my own life.
Juliet Townsend was a promising track star in high school, but she always took second place because her best friend Maddy ran just a little bit faster. Never coming in first meant no scholarships to prestigious schools and when her father died suddenly Juliet dropped out of college and returned home, which is where she still is ten years after high school graduation. She works cleaning rooms in a dive hotel, barely supporting herself and her mentally fragile mother and compulsively pocketing random items left behind by guests. After a decade of no contact, her former best friend shows up with a huge diamond engagement ring and the desire to reconnect, but Juliet, full of resentment, brushes Maddy off. By the next morning Maddy is dead, and Juliet is a suspect in her murder.
Of course Juliet investigates, partly to clear her name but also to find out what happened to the friend she regrets rebuffing. This takes her back into the world of high school, this time as a substitute gym teacher coaching girls on the current track team, and being there gives Juliet new perspectives about her own participation in the sport. Juliet also spends time sneaking around in the dark, going after possible clues, and though I had a fairly good idea of who the murderer would turn out to be the story is highly suspenseful.
Without being didactic Little Pretty Things addresses some important issues, racial prejudice and teenage sexulity among them. The well drawn characters really made the story for me–I especially enjoyed the relationships between Juliet and Lu, the slightly older Hispanic woman who also cleans rooms at the hotel, and Juliet and the female cop investigating the murder, a testy former high school classmate Juliet had ignored when she and Maddy were track team celebrities. I’ll be looking for the next book from Lori Rader-Day.