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Rural Sprawl
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-372-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Mystery/Romance
eBook Length: 239 Pages
Published: July 2006
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

Murder, country style....

Pick up a copy of The Plattsford Sun, and find out who missed the last meeting of the altar guild, who had unexpected company last week, and who was found murdered in a muddy construction site.

Gloria Trevisi, Canadian-Italian city transplant and newest editor of the Sun, needs some peace and quiet to come to terms with the recent twists of her own life, a marriage that may be over before it has begun, the end of a promising career in corporate communications, and the sudden move from Toronto to the middle of Southwestern Ontario’s cornbelt. She thought that life in this rural backwater would be dull....

The murder of a local politician and businessman has set local inhabitants on edge, they?re looking for a quick, easy solution, preferably outside their immediate social circle.

Gloria’s mission, when she isn?t dealing with an absent husband, concerned parents, furious in-laws and a leaching, smelly septic bed, is to sort through a maze of local gossip, delve behind the polite facade of rural political and social life, and find out the truth before her newspaper goes to press.

Someone, however, does not want to see it in print.



Reviews and Awards

Terrific Read! A Grand Whodunnit!
"RURAL SPRAWL is a grand 'who done it' novel that will delight every true mystery lover who is unable to predict the ending and is fully engaged with the chief heroine in solving a complex, gritty murder! A TERRIFIC READ!"
-- Viviane Crystal, Crystal Reviews
 
Intense...
"RURAL SPRAWL is an intense story. The protagonist is a dynamic, likeable young woman who bravely faces life's difficulties. The reader feels herself sharing and reacting to her situation, obstacles, and isolation.

"Enjoy this beautiful novel by A. R. Grobbo. And then, you are ready for DOG IN A MANGER, the second story in the Gloria Trevisi series."
-- Gianfranco Cazzaro, Caribooks
 
3 cups from Coffee Time Romance!
3 cups from Coffee Time Romance!
"Gloria is a very smart and strong independent woman. You cannot help but admire the way she deals with the people of the rural town--who do not seem to like her or even want to talk to her. The story flowed smoothly and so did the 'who done it' until the very end. Humorous and a fun read. It is the first of the Gloria Trevisi mystery series--the others that follow should be a lot of fun also."
-- Wateena, Coffee Time Romance
 
3 Daggers from The Romance Reader's Connection!
"Gloria is a fairly conflicted character?this makes her interesting. The overriding impression, though, is that of a woman who has made her choices and is now trying to make her life fit around the circumstances that she's created. Anyone who has ever moved to a small community or started as the new person in a close-knit workplace will be able to sympathize with her. The writing is quite good, and the author keeps the pace brisk."
-- Deborah Hern, The Romance Reader's Connection
 
The difficulties of investigating a murder in a small town...
"Gloria Trevisi has been downsized from her city job, married Tony Lambert, and accepted a job in a small town. Now, her husband is traveling with a chamber ensemble. This has all happened within the space of three months. Wow!

"Presently, Gloria is working very hard as an editor of a weekly newspaper, which is very difficult because the town is very small. Nosy townspeople are quick to ask Gloria about her husband: Where is he? Does she have one? The general manager Fred Russell is going through some personal issues as well, but he is also hitting on Gloria and undermining her authority at the same time.

"I felt so sorry for Gloria because she wanted everything she had; she just did not know how to incorporate it all into her life. On top of that, she has gotten involved in the investigation of a murder, which means delving into small town secrets. As someone who grew up in a small town, getting caught up in a town’s secrets is not something an outsider wants to do. It is dangerous!

"I really enjoyed RURAL SPRAWL. I liked how A. R. Grobbo handled all of the character relationships. I think other readers will enjoy the book as well."
-- Michelle Dragalin, Roundtable Reviews
 
Praise from One Who Knows!
"RURAL SPRAWL is a delightful description of life in rural Midwestern Ontario. It reflects the beautiful countryside and the details about local towns, stores and offices are realistic.

"The characters in the story are a cross section of people in the community, those who have been resident for five or six generations, and newcomers from cities and other countries.

"The story revolves around a murdered body and the investigations, surmising, and motives for the murder involve local gossip, official investigators, and newspaper reporters.

"The author, A.R. Grobbo, accurately describes the sights, sounds, and smells of summer in a rural community and blends the fast pace of events with the rhythm of agriculture and agribusiness."
-- MAC, Resident of the real "Rural Sprawl" community
 
A crime scene snapshot of a cornfield in the cover graphics prepares one for Constable Brian Stoker's gruesome find on a less than normal routine patrol. The near comedy of his reaction, mis-reaction and sentiment that June night holds promise to the reader of instant enjoyment in a well-written novel that soundly carries suspense. Gloria Trevisi is a well-drawn character, an editor of a mid-western Ontario weekly. She is tossed from small town news, prize pigs or strange potatoes, to a farm place fatality. As if a body squashed by a bulldozer in a simple farmland is not enough tabloid news for the district weekly, the story develops into a full blown whodunit. Reading Rural Sprawl, I could not help but feel drawn to the Canadian-Italian reporter who baffles village folk (keen to fix or speculate) with the status of her marriage to concert violinist Tony. But it is her observations, persistence and gradual findings in the McKee murder that become cause enough for a killer's worry. A. R. Grobbo's writing is light, tight and weaved with ample humor hopefully to carry to the next Gloria Trevisi mystery.
 
Reviewed by Eugen M. Bacon


Rural Sprawl (Excerpt)


Chapter 1

Normally, Constable Brian Stoker would not have been anywhere near the construction site in O?Dell Township late Thursday evening. Unpaved township roads were not part of his regular patrol route.

That night, however, he?d had to drop by a house just outside the village of East Lister to deal with a drunk husband in a touchy domestic situation.

Even so, he would not have slowed down and turned into the rough gravel drive if he had not noticed a light where it shouldn?t have been. And he certainly never would have left his cruiser if he hadn?t thought he heard the low rumble of a bulldozer, and wouldn?t have slipped in the goop of engine oil if he had bothered to point his flashlight on the ground in front of him instead of waving it toward the collection of backhoes and other construction equipment parked near the shed.

It was not engine oil, however, he discovered as soon as he regained his balance.

On a normal day, which contained anything from checking seatbelts on motorists to cornering a runaway bull, Stoker was not an excitable man. But as he stared down at the soggy bundle at his feet, the burly six foot three police officer decided he wanted some company. Badly. In gooey boots, he hop-skipped back to the cruiser and radioed a concise message to the police dispatch thirty miles away.

Early the following morning as the young constable was filing a report at the detachment office in Plattsford, the ramifications of what he had found at 11:50 p.m. on a warm summer evening suddenly dawned on him. He glanced down at his left boot, the sole of which had been sticking softly to the floor of the staff room, and nearly lost two tuna sandwiches.



***

"This is the third time this has happened in seven weeks!" Gloria Trevisi wailed to the noisy little black box mounted under the dashboard of her car. "For once, I?d like something to happen before this newspaper’s deadline, not five hours later," she moaned as she slowed to make a quick u-turn on the deserted highway.

The recently hired editor of the district’s only weekly newspaper would not have known much about the incident either, if she hadn?t been returning from a late-running (and deadly dull) meeting of the Plattsford Memorial Hospital Board of Governors. Tired, bored, and frustrated, she had just passed County Road One to East Lister on her route home when her police band scanner picked up the excited broadcast. Swearing at the radio, and at the fact that she was smartly dressed in skirt and good leather pumps instead of wearing something comfortable and practical, she doubled back to the county highway, floored the accelerator, and ground the gearshift of her ancient Mazda into high.

Industrial park indeed! All she had ever seen was a crudely painted sign tacked to a construction shack and a muddy hole; and tonight, traffic. An ambulance and two police cruisers were pulling into the site when she arrived five minutes later. She stepped carefully from her car onto the gravel shoulder, watching while Sergeant Dave O?Toole carefully swathed the gate with yellow tape. After eight weeks of covering local police and courts, she knew that O?Toole rarely came out from behind his desk.

"Whatever this is, it must be important, Sergeant," she called out. "What’s up?"

"Can?t say," replied the reticent sergeant, tying off the end of the tape and regarding her over the barrier.

"Well, what can you tell me?"

He paused, his hand resting on the gate post. "Not much, at this point."

Annoyed, but not surprised by his guarded response, she persisted. "May I look?"

"Look all you want," he said, blocking the view, "as long as you don?t cross the line."

"For heaven’s sake, I?m not a souvenir hunter." She stood uneasily beside her car, looking toward the industrial park, currently the front half of a one-hundred-acre cornfield about a mile from the village of East Lister. At the moment, the "park" looked like a muddy, stony wasteland populated with earth movers and dump trucks, and all of it barely visible in the headlights of two cruisers.

Photo prospects? Naturally, there were none. Would the readers be satisfied with a blurred, inky, seven-day-old snap of a large police officer standing beside a strip of yellow tape? Depends on what happens, or doesn?t happen, between now and next Tuesday, right? Reaching into the vehicle, Gloria grabbed her camera and flash unit and walked toward the gate.

"Watch your step, Ms. Trevisi," O?Toole warned in his blandest tone. "There’s a pretty steep ditch there. Wouldn?t want you to take a tumble, would we?"

She quickly sidestepped back into the muddy ruts at the bottom of the driveway, ignoring the loose gravel collecting under her toes of her low-slung pumps and the splash of dirty water from a puddle that added an interesting pattern to the hem of her skirt.

"Thanks for the tip." Many, she mused, would no doubt have enjoyed watching the local newshound topple into a ditch full of sludge and muddy water left over from a recent June rain. She was, however, reasonably good-looking, and more or less single, according to local gossip, and therefore warranted a little consideration. And, of course, being a gentleman, the sergeant would have felt obliged to crawl into the muddy abyss after her. Or maybe not.

Halting beside the yellow marking tape, she peered through the darkness. The construction shack was completely in shadow, headlights of the police vehicles facing the other way. A large elm spread its umbrella branches from the ditch across both sides of the road, its summer foliage preventing the yard light at the top of the drive from illuminating the scene below. Other trees along the fence line of the property had been eliminated. Farmers, hydro workers, even developers, however, were reluctant to destroy so rare a find as a healthy elm.

She took a deep breath. The evening was warm, and the scent in the air was of damp soil and sweet grass munched by contented cattle, reminding her that she was deep in the heart of the best farmland in the province. Strangely, the air suggested life and renewal, not death by misadventure.

"Stay where you are," O?Toole cautioned. "We?ve called a couple of investigators to collect evidence. They won?t be here for a couple of hours yet." His eyes took in her full-skirted elegance. "Got a hot date?"

Fat chance. "No, I?m working, like you. What are you doing out of the office? Had to see it for yourself?" The gray-blue beam of the solitary yard light gave the sergeant’s face a grayish, pinched look; or perhaps, Gloria thought, it wasn?t the light.

He shrugged. "You planning to take pictures?"

"I?m not sure." Gloria stepped back a few paces and glanced again at the murky scene behind him, where another officer was spreading a yellow plastic sheet over something pinpointed in the cruiser’s headlights. She hoisted her camera and flash. "Who is it?"

"We can?t say just yet."

"Can?t say? Don?t you know? Is he a stranger? Local? Vagrant? Employee?"

"We?ll know better tomorrow when we?ve compiled a few more facts. Sorry." He grimaced. "Stoker should have known better than to broadcast it for you media types to pick up on your scanners. Paper’s out, anyway, isn?t it?" he added smugly.

"Sure. This week’s issue hit the street six hours ago, but the next issue is only a week away. Look grim, Sergeant." She snapped a photo before the officer could protest, and left him muttering an impolite curse and blinking at red dots in the darkness. "Don?t worry. Even if it does turn out, it?ll probably do no better than the back page next week." She retreated to her car, tiptoeing through the soft ruts. "Can?t say," she mused, meant "won?t say" until he has been given the official nod. It was a reasonable courtesy to the victim’s next-of-kin. If she were pushing a deadline, it would have been infuriating to be kept waiting. Instead, it hardly mattered.

She almost liked Dave O?Toole, in spite of his grim face and dry, humorless way of talking. He was as reticent as any cop should be, but at least respected her job well enough to answer whatever questions he could. He was also reasonably nice-looking, in his late forties, and a widower with a teenage son...not that she cared much at this point, but in a community this size, personal details were difficult to avoid.

Her predecessor on the Plattsford Sun would have whiled away most of the night chatting with the police officers, found out nothing in particular, then slept away half the following day. Not Gloria; as exciting as news might be, hanging around at the scene of a tragedy, or watching someone’s life and dreams go up in smoke at a spectacular house fire in hopes of catching a teary-eyed survivor on film, was not her style. That was for the cutthroat competition of the city rags, and she?d already had her fill of those. Besides, the Sun came out only once a week, and a few days could make a world of difference in an ongoing investigation. By the time the next issue went to press, the victim, whoever he was, would be six feet down, his survivors finished all the muffins and casseroles offered by caring neighbors, and the will loudly contested. And Sergeant O?Toole would have other things not to tell her about.

She swung her feet into the car and caught sight of her shoes, once a creamy off-white, now smeared with black mud. "Probably pig dung from a manure spreader," she murmured as she pulled another U-turn and headed back toward the highway. "Serves me right for dressing up. I should know better."

Gloria did like to dress up occasionally, though most of the time decent clothes were not practical for a typical news day on the Plattsford Sun. One could be sitting through a town planning board meeting one minute, and climbing into the back of a pickup truck for a better photo angle of someone’s prize boar the next. Back in the early days of her journalism career, the publisher of a small suburban daily had insisted that all his news staff be prepared, at all times, to meet royalty. He had stated in his pompous, chauvinistic way that every reporter, while on duty, must "wear a jacket and tie." Gloria had protested at the time that she did not own a tie. The idea of a dress code for news staff was ridiculous, she had pointed out; a news reporter had to be ready for anything. After all, the royals usually gave plenty of notice if they were coming, but riots, accidents, and fires did not. And anyway, when last had the Queen and Phil dropped into the newspaper office to check out the latest fashions?

Well, what could one expect of a newspaper that still printed a "Girl of the Week" portrait featuring photogenic, twenty-something females whose main claim to fame was an outstanding cleavage and a willingness to undress for the photographer? The photos that were too revealing for the weekly feature were plastered on the wall of the darkroom where she had been expected to process her own film.

She thought she had left it all behind, the rough beginnings on tiny newspapers that expected a writer to be on duty sixty hours a week covering every Brownie and Scout dinner. Indeed, she had worked her way into bigger and better things for a few years. Two months ago, that had all suddenly, abruptly changed, and here she was, at thirty-one, the new face in the small town once again. And this community was unusually tenacious in closing ranks at the appearance of a stranger, particularly a stranger with a secret.

"The Sun has a very close-knit, cozystaff," explained the head-office executive who offered her the job. "They?re loyal to your predecessor even though he did a poor job on the news. It isn?t anything like the type of job you?re used to, working in the city for a big corporation."

"My very first job was in a close-knit, small town, sir," Gloria quickly reassured him. "I?ve learned a few things since then." She?d accepted his offer, and his rather puny starting salary, and congratulated herself on the fact that, in this tight economy, she could still find work, and a means of supporting herself.

And once again, small town happenings were big news. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Chamber of Commerce luncheons, Boy Scout banquets, the rising price of pig feed, fund-raising dinners, strangely shaped potatoes resembling celebrities, and an endless round of small-town social and political goings-on were the stuff news stories were made of in Plattsford. Until tonight, that is.

Until now, she had not considered anything about the industrial park to be newsworthy, unique, or unusual. The plans for this bizarre aberration on the rural landscape of O?Dell had been set down long before her arrival, and zoning changes approved the previous autumn, among a cloud of controversy now nearly forgotten. Did the township officials even know what an industrial park should look like, let alone what services one would expect to be provided under the latest environmental protection guidelines? She doubted it. As for industry.... In O?Dell? The only industry that had shown any interest at all in this project so far was a timber-finishing plant that, due to zoning difficulties and loud protests from all the neighbors within a mile of its present location, was being forced to move. Clippings of O?Dell Township council news, sketchy though they were, had not indicated recent problems for follow-up. But an accident, especially a fatality, could turn a nondescript field of mud into a theater for drama. She would have to read up on the details of this particular piece of property as soon as she had a spare moment. And when, she wondered, would that be?

Right now, she had other worries, the biggest being her marriage of inconvenience, followed by her mildly irritating young boss, and whether the ancient farmhouse she had recently rented would stand up for the winter. And gossip.

She had never lived in a community that enjoyed gossip as much as this one did. Separating news from gossip was a minor aggravation. Protecting herself from gossip was pretty much impossible, and she was still not certain how much she wanted to tell people about her particular circumstances. They just wouldn?t understand. Hell, she still didn?t. But by not telling, she was leaving it up to conjecture, and that was even worse.

And some were, indeed, wondering. After all, a conspicuous wedding band meant nothing, if not accompanied by a conspicuous mate. Two weeks after her arrival at the Sun, a lady from a nearby church asked if she would like to have her name included in a weekly prayer circle for victims of spousal abuse. The offer was, at best, well meant but puzzling-what on earth had she been thinking?-and Gloria politely declined. A few days later, a middle-aged farmer with appalling teeth offered to accompany her to a meeting for widows and widowers. His eyes were not on her face, however, but a considerable distance below, giving her a good idea what he was thinking. The briskly refused date was soon followed by an improper pass made at a service club dinner by a local life insurance broker rumoured to be recently separated-turned down, but not so politely-then another outlandish proposition by a young man barely eighteen with pimples and a stutter. He approached her during a high school career day and asked if she was really a lesbian, as everyone was saying, and if she would give a presentation on gay lifestyles to their senior social studies class, since no one in Plattsford had ever met a dyke before.

"Who the hell put you up to this?" she bellowed. "I?ll maim the son of a bitch!" Not that she had anything against people enjoying alternate lifestyles; she was, however, tired of being an object for speculation. Nevertheless, a few additional expletives gave the local business leaders who were helping out at the career day some insight into the newspaper’s newest editor: she has a temper, and when provoked could out-cuss a team of millwrights.

After that, people stopped probing, though they hadn?t stopped talking. And Gloria, for her part, began to dress with more self-conscious feminine flair whenever she had the opportunity, caving in to popular stereotyping nonsense. Finally she decided to find an ally and tell all. As her confidante, she chose the Sun’s advertising manager, Linda Grant, a cheerful, energetic, hard-working woman in her late thirties.

"Well, I was curious, and so is everyone else," Mrs. Grant admitted. "People want to know, even if they?re too polite to ask you directly."

Polite? That wasn?t the word Gloria had in mind. But when Linda invited her home for supper, Gloria forgave her and happily accepted. She was still nurturing a much-needed friendship with Linda, her husband Bob, two teenage sons, and favorite nephew, a well-mannered, intelligent nineteen-year-old who would not have labeled her butch for refusing to date the locals.

Headlights in a farm lane ahead caught her attention; a tractor, no doubt. She wondered about the strange hours kept by working farmers, often as erratic as her own, and was growing accustomed to keeping a sharp eye out for the little orange triangles that signified a seed wagon trundling toward the barn in the middle of the night.

But it was rather late, she noted, to see all the lights on in the McDaniel house, less than a mile from the industrial park. Hazel McDaniel was one of the Sun’s elderly, and slightly infirm, community correspondents, and she wondered idly if everything was all right in the McDaniel household. Had the noisy activity next door caught their attention? Perhaps....She snickered softly. "That does it. I?m getting to be as nosy as everyone else around here!" Instead, she drove faster up the highway toward home, ever hoping to see the side-reflectors of Tony’s elegant Buick wink a greeting as she turned in the long driveway, and always just a bit disappointed when the lane was dark and empty. After all, Tony was a few thousand miles away.