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I used to live in a small town just outside Austin, TX called Wimberley. When I moved there in 2009 I had never lived in a small town before, but quickly learned I was well-suited for small town Texas living. With my love of a good mystery, somewhere along the way I started imagining what it would be like to be a private investigator in Wimberley, and that became the basis for that future book I always said I’d write “one day.” Well, Samantha Jayne Allen beat me to that with her Annie McIntyre PI series--set in the fictional town of Garnett, TX it perfectly captures the essence of small town life in Texas. The first book, “Pay Dirt Road” (which won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut novel) introduced us to Annie, who’s working as a waitress in her home town shortly after graduating from college. The book hooked me right away—I loved the character and the authenticity of the setting, with a well-plotted mystery to boot. Allen has written the book I dreamed of writing!

Her sophomore effort, “Hard Rain,” picks up where Pay Dirt Road left off. Annie has quit waitressing and now works full-time in her grandfather’s private investigation firm. At the outset of the book, a freak rain bomb upriver from Garnett sets off the most catastrophic flooding in recorded history. The Geronimo River, which cuts through the middle of town, rises by more than 40 feet in a matter of hours. Annie’s high school classmate Bethany Richter is spending that night in a cabin that gets swept away by the flood. The couple she was staying with in the cabin vanished in the flood, but Bethany miraculously survived—aided by a young bearded man who pulled her to safety just before disappearing under a wave. Bethany hires Annie to find this man, and the resulting investigation reveals there have been some shady goings-on in Garnett.

The book hits you with a gut punch right away as it describes the destruction that happened the night of the flood. The river rose so suddenly and unexpectedly that people just couldn’t react quickly enough, and many were swept away and drowned. This is what I loved most about the book. Wimberley experienced a similar devastating flood in 2015, and I remember that night and its aftermath very well. Allen describes the clean up and rebuilding efforts that are going on while Annie is searching for Bethany’s bearded savior, and the shared community grief is woven into the storyline. I also appreciated that Allen didn’t shy away from describing the rapid development in Central Texas, and how that has contributed to a dramatic increase in catastrophic flooding events in the region. But it’s not all doom and gloom—Central Texas has a unique and unparalleled beauty, and Allen takes you there. You can almost smell the lavender and hear the blue jays as you read about Annie mulling the case over a glass of lemonade on her boss’s limestone patio.

This is Annie’s first solo case, something she’s both thrilled and terrified by. As she makes some unexpected discoveries, she begins to hit her stride and comes to realize that she loves this line of work. But Annie always thought she’d go off to college and then go on to something from there—something other than Garnett, so moving back home feels like a bit of a failure. As much as she loves working as a private investigator, especially with her grandfather and his partner Mary-Pat, she’s not certain that is going to be “enough.” Annie is also dealing with some family conflicts, and breaks up with her boyfriend Wyatt—the girl has a lot on her plate! She’s wrestling with this ambivalence while doggedly pursuing Bethany’s mystery man. Then the case takes a turn, and Annie has to wonder if Bethany’s savior might actually be someone dangerous.

By the time she wraps up the case, Annie has learned a lot about herself and has come closer to leaning into her new career. Allen’s done such a great job crafting this realistic, complex character and I can’t wait to see how Annie continues to grow on both a personal and professional level.


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