by James R. Coggins
Mountaintop Drive is another John Smyth mystery, the third in a series following Who's Grace? and Desolation Highway. Smyth follows in a tradition of unassuming amateur detectives — people who get thrown into the role of solving mysteries not because of their profession, but because of their remarkable acumen. Just think of Father Brown, and you're on the right track.
The tale opens with Smyth finally getting a much-needed holiday, something of a second honeymoon with his wife Ruby. The tranquility doesn't last long, though. Shortly after their arrival, the neighbor is murdered, and Smyth is drawn into the whole mystery-solving program. Again.
The story itself is a fun one, but what is perhaps more interesting in Mountaintop Drive is the look it offers into intradenominational church politics. In the town of Abbotsville, Smyth comes across two churches of his own denomination, one catering to the needs of the town's wealthy residents, and the other to the poor. The insights he gains into the operation of two separate congregations is very well written, and creates a memorable picture. The ideas are the sort you'll want to mull over for some time, as they challenge the easy assumptions we might be tempted to make when we hear of this sort of arrangement in a smallish town. Coggins has written well about the subject, and it is nicely embedded in the story so as not to become intrusive at any point.
Good story, good thought process, and just generally a fun read. Mountaintop Drive is one worth looking out for when you're searching for the next novel to dive into.
Reviewed by Shelly Bryant 2010