A town too proud of its virtues has to deal with its first murder...
The Northeast Mississippi town of Beneficent, population 479, has never had a murder and expresses its complacent pride in the motto "A town as good as its name." But on January 9, 1948, a high school cheerleader is found murdered. The town's attempts to maintain its self-image and deny local guilt are woven into two narrative threads. One is a contentious romance between the local farmer Jack Davis and Lisa Kemper, newly arrived from Indiana. He holds an idyllic vision of the town. She is repelled by everything in it, yet struggles to understand it on its own terms. The town's good and bad characteristics, its combination of astute perceptions and surprising blind spots, are revealed chiefly through their eyes. In a second thread, the sheriff's attempts to find the murderer reveal further insights into the town. Subplots extend the novel's emotional range with both comedy and pathos. The two narrative threads and the subplots eventually merge in shocking revelations which result in repentance and spiritual reconciliation of the town's internal contradictions and conflicts.
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