FBI agent Poppy Rice is, rather unwillingly, taking time off to recuperate from injuries sustained on the job. A few days into her ill-conceived vacation on Block Island with Joe, her sometime-lover and soul mate, she happens upon a corpse dumped in the middle of the road.
The body of the victim, a young girl from a summer camp for overweight teenagers, is painfully contorted, her face frozen in a death scream. There are no visible wounds and the cause of death is a mystery. Although Poppy is no stranger to gruesome scenes, she is so disturbed by the murder that she can't help but defy her orders to rest. Then, just as she begins poking around, another body is found in the same condition as the first; this time, the pathologist reveals another similarity--the eardrums of both girls were ruptured.
Now Poppy must get to the killer before the killer gets to any more girls. With no clue as to the murderer's method or motive, she's going to need all the help she can get. But in the close-knit, tight-lipped Block Island community, secrets are kept--even deadly ones, in Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's She's Not There.
Poppy Rice is home in her D.C. apartment with very little furniture and lots of boxes she still hasn't unpacked after five years. It's three a.m. and she's suffering from her usual insomnia. While polishing her nails, she watches a tape of the CBS Evening News--Dan Rather is interviewing convicted ax-murderer Rona Leigh Glueck. In ten days, Rona Leigh will be the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. Poppy pauses the tape on a close-up of Rona Leigh's small, delicate hands. Okay, she thinks, so maybe it was a lightweight ax.
Poppy digs out Rona Leigh's case file to find--along with the grisly crime-scene photos--a physician's testimony that glee, not muscle, gave her the strength to commit the crime. When her public defender asked the crime lab for help determining whether such a small woman could physically commit these murders, he was turned away for not filing the correct paperwork.
With the reluctant support of her colleague and sometime lover, Joe Barnow, the relentless Poppy reopens the investigation to find out if Rona Leigh deserves to receive a certificate that will read: Death by Legal Homicide as Ordered by the State of Texas.
Funny and fearless, Poppy Rice is just about unstoppable.
Smith's Hartford neighborhood is small-town America, where everyone’s door is unlocked and the school, church, library, drugstore, 5 & 10, grocery, and tavern are all within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters—her possibly psychic mother who's always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her adoring father who makes sure she has something to eat in the morning beyond her usual gulp of Hershey’s syrup, her grandfather who teaches her to bash in the heads of the eels they catch on Long Island Sound, Uncle Guido who makes the annual bagna cauda, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love and food and endless stories of the old days. And then there’s her brother, Tyler.
Smith's household was “different.” Little Mary-Ann couldn't have friends over because her older brother, Tyler, an autistic before anyone knew what that meant, was unable to bear noise of any kind. To him, the sound of crying, laughing, phones ringing, or toilets flushing was “a cloud of barbed needles” flying into his face. Subject to such an assault, he would substitute that pain with another: he'd try to chew his arm off. Tyler was Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley, albeit one whose bookshelves sagged under the weight of the World War II books he collected and read obsessively.
Hanging over this rough-and-tumble American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this joyous and chaotic family portrait, and the havoc he unleashes when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953 forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.
Girls of Tender Age is one of those books that will forever change its readers because of its beauty and power and remarkable wit.