Forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson (Highland Laddie Gone, Lovely in Her Bones) is dealing with death, but not at her usual scientific remove. She's checked herself into Cherry Hill Psychiatric Hospital in an attempt to come to terms with her husband's recent death. Meanwhile her brother Bill, a Virginia lawyer, is attempting to soothe the ire of his partner, A.P. Hill, by purchasing a Tara-like mansion in the hopes of attracting a better class of client. Unfortunately, the mansion comes complete with a resident character, one Jack Dolan, the 90-year-old former owner who refuses to leave. But Hill is uninterested in Bill's nesting efforts. She's intent on understanding a former law-school rival's sudden embarkation on a life of crime. P.J. Purdue has broken a client out of prison and the pair, dubbed "the PMS Outlaws" by the press, are terrorizing all manner of male chauvinists. They seduce the men, convince them to disrobe and submit to handcuffing (with promises of tantalizing escapades to come), and then flee with the dupe's clothes and wallet. It's amusing in the abstract, until Purdue begins using A.P.'s name as an alias and the cops come knocking on her door.
The two narratives both feature deeply cynical women and tedious moralizations on the unfairness of using physical beauty as the standard by which to judge women. Unfortunately, McCrumb's attempts to link them are largely unconvincing. Elizabeth's story merges feebly with Bill's when a fellow patient, a former cop, recognizes a picture of the house and hints at dark secrets in its owner's past. Elizabeth recruits her cousin Geoffrey, the most interesting character in this outing, to unearth what he can about Dolan. Securely ensconced in Bill's new offices as an interior decorator-cum-sleuth, Geoffrey faxes amusingly arch updates to Elizabeth, a welcome distraction for the reader from her grief, which feels clumsy and out of place.
The PMS Outlaws flounders in an uncomfortable net of cozy mystery, social commentary, and introspection. Let's hope McCrumb soon returns to the form that captivated readers of her Appalachian novels (She Walks These Hills, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, The Rosewood Casket). When she's on top of her game, she's absolutely unbeatable. --Kelly Flynn [via]