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Susan Alice Pickford’s debut crime thriller, A Short Time to Die, tells the story of two women who become linked in a most unlikely way.

Marly Shaw has the misfortune to be born into an extended family whose relations rule her rural area of Central New York with an iron and physical grip, dispensing their own brand of revenge or twisted justice in often lethal ways.

After years of abuse and a narrowly missed brush with her own death, Marly vows to find a way out of the town and that life. She becomes the protector of her young niece and nephew, and soon finds what she thinks may be a way to leave Charon Springs behind her.

Over a decade later, human remains found in California are traced to this same family, both with criminal records. Detective Vanessa Alba needs to know how these two felons died, and who is responsible. She and her partner head to the Finger Lakes region to conduct interviews with the remaining members of the Harris clan, determined to figure out why these two would have traveled all the way to California, out of their element, to be killed–and soon come to see that they were perhaps not so undeserving of their fate.

The brisk cold and rugged terrain are vividly described, as are the tough characters that are cut from a mold some could mistakenly take for extinct. Marly is an intelligent young woman with a honed set of instincts borne out of her desire to survive this pathological family she’s attached to by way of her mother.

The action alternates between the year 2000 when the Harris clan sets in motion the deeds that will culminate in the two deaths of 2013. This allows the reader to see how the situation developed, and how desperately Marly wanted to escape and save her sister’s children.

A fascinating look at a diabolical family with an unlikely ending that develops. A strong debut with a unique cast of characters. Readers will be rooting for Marly from the first chapter.

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