“Lowcountry Bribe” by C. Hope Clark
Seeing blood splattered all over the office is not the way I’d like to start the business day, but that’s exactly what Carolina Slade, Federal Agent for the Department of Agriculture near Charleston, South Carolina, encounters one morning. A co-worker, Lucas Sherwood, has committed suicide and Slade’s life is about to take a drastic turn for the worse as well.
Just when the business of giving loans to the local farmers seems to fall back into the normal routine, a hog farmer, Jesse Rawlings, arrives with a truckload of smelly, dead hogs, and attempts to bribe Ms. Slade into helping him get title to a farm in the area. In exchange for $10,000 and maybe a little action on the side. She’s not interested in either and it doesn’t take too long for her to report the attempted bribe to her boss. Her husband disagrees with her decision, is anything but supportive and constantly demonstrates why their marriage is on the rocks.
Enter Wayne Largo, Senior Special Agent, who arrives to investigate the incident. Mr. Largo and his partner, Eddie, feel that Slade needs to go undercover in order to nail Jesse for what he has done.
Slade never hesitates about reporting the bribe, but is surprised by the fallout. She is implicated as complicit in the very charges she has reported, and nobody is happy about the charges except the investigators. Even they seem to stop believing her version of the events. And the hog farmer knows where she lives.
C. Hope Clark delivers a story that includes corruption and greed, a scheme much broader in scope than a mere bribery attempt, kidnapping, tacky affairs, real estate fraud, and renewed interest in the case of Mickey Wilder, another co-worker who had disappeared the year before. Supposed friends turn out to be foes and the office is a hostile environment. Yup, Ms. Slade’s life is rapidly unraveling.
Slade’s bad marriage plays a twisty role in the story, not just as background for the character, but along the way brings a serious ring of truth to her inner thoughts. We see Slade shift realistically between hate, anger, disappointment, and frustration over the love that faded long before. We feel her pain at having/needing to end the marriage in order to move into happier/healthier direction. In one of the many moments of clarity about divorce she says, “Nobody wins.”
Carolina Slade is a bright, feisty, strong character who is up to everything thrown at her, and C. Hope Clark has wisely written Slade with a bit of vulnerability to soften the snarky retorts that slip out. At one point, her car is rear-ended twice by someone, but she has no proof, did not see the license and she dismisses the federal agents concern with, “Murder? We shared paint. Cut the dramatics.” And yet, her hand is shaking when she tries to use her key.
There are several great supporting characters. The bad guys are slimy, nasty and cold to the bone, but we also know that her dad and her best friend will always be there for her. The relationship that develops between Slade and Largo is an interesting one and fun to read as the two people grapple with their emotions.
The area of South Carolina in “Lowcountry Bribe” appears desolate, maybe even a bit creepy, at times. What came to mind was how easily somebody could get lost forever, without ever a possibility of being found. Terrific setting for this story.
The book is based in part on an actual bribery case in the author’s personal experience, although Ms. Clark has insisted the murders in the novel are fictional.
“Lowcountry Bribe” won the Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville in 2012 as well as the EPIC award for best mystery.
To read my review of the third book in the Carolina Slade series, "Palmetto Poison," go here.
For more information about C. Hope Clark, her books, and her marvelous Funds for Writers, please visit www.chopeclark.com