If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O is one for the oldies-but-goodies department. The book is the first in author Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series, and one of the best. The books in the series all take place in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, in a small town in a holler, with a small-town sheriff who grew up in the community.
Sheriff Spencer Arrowood’s job is mostly arresting drunk drivers or stopping bar fights. The town receives a jolt of excitement when Peggy Muryan purchases one of the old mansions in town. Peggy was a folk singer during the 60s along with singers such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Her fame was brief, but she is still well-remembered, and the closest thing the town has as a celebrity. It doesn’t take long, however, when she begins receiving threatening postcards and begins fearing for her life.
In the meantime, the high school class of 1970 is planning its high school reunion, and Spencer is a member of that class. The reunion begins stirring up all sorts of feelings about the Vietnam War. It doesn’t take too long before Arrowood’s deputy Joe LeDonne, a veteran of that war, begins seeing ties between the postcards and the Vietnam War. When Peggy’s dog is brutally killed, followed shortly by the murder of a young girl who has a disarming resemblance to Peggy Muryan, it’s all hands on deck to find out who wants to kill the singer.
Admittedly, this was a reread, but I hadn’t read it since it was first published in 1990. The book’s publishing date makes it feel like a period piece, though back when it was written there really were no such things as cell phones and fax machines. The tie to the Vietnam War was somewhat eerie to this reviewer, who grew up in the 70s.
McCrumb’s writing is beautiful, and though the Ballad series started becoming disappointing as the books continued, If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O is one of the best.