Summary and book reviews of The Crowning Circle by J.R. Lankford

The Crowning Circle

A Mystery Thriller

by J.R. Lankford

The Crowning Circle
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  • Paperback:
    Feb 2001, 385 pages

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Book Summary

When three violent deaths occur in a quiet Ohio town, personal calamity befalls forensic psychologist Doc "Skeet" Cullum and his technology wizard buddy, Jake Morrison, in this compassionate thriller about how we live, love and die.

The Crowning Circle takes place in an imaginary mid-sized town called Chatsford, Ohio. Doc Skeet Cullum, is a forensic psychologist who helps detectives in the city's homicide department. Skeet has a strange theory about death which he uses to unravel tough cases. Jake, Skeet's friend, is an inventor-engineer who owns a company called Solutions, Inc. On Thursdays, this duo get together at Jake's house to play guitar.

The book opens on the morning of one of these Thursdays as three violent deaths - one a murder without apparent motive - occur. News of the first interrupts Skeet's proposal to his half-Vietnamese girlfriend of seven years. That night it's obvious to Jake that Skeet, usually stoic, is deeply upset.

In the next four days, personal and public calamities fall like dominoes as the formerly reclusive Jake sets out to help Skeet, without telling him. Their friendship withstands all strain until Jake tries to penetrate Skeet's inscrutable facade - under which, Jake finally suspects, is something crucial. He is right.


Thursday, 9:03 a.m.
Oaklawn District, Chatsford, Ohio

Gloria Wentworth Hampton stood in her driveway, her face shaded by her broad-brimmed gardening hat. She wished the shadow would somehow widen, darken, descend to the ground, and envelop her. Since coming to America from England a year ago, she'd often felt this way.

"Do come with us, Mum. Won't you please?" her daughter begged, pulling at her skirts.

"Maybe another time, darling . . . " Gloria began and, from recent habit, looked up and down the sidewalk. It was vacant except for a boy, perhaps eighteen, wearing jeans and plaid shirt. To Gloria he looked the typical American male, who thought himself a Wild West cowboy. She glanced away, feeling suddenly empty, wondering why she'd become so judgmental.

"Gloria, really!"

Her husband, Jim, held their son's hand and looked exasperated.

"Surely we should go as a family," he said. "It's their Founder's Day."

"Please, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
These discussion questions are intended to help your group explore the underlying themes of The Crowning Circle, a suspense/thriller which examines friendship, love, group identity, how our needs for love and belonging drive us, and what happens when they aren't fulfilled.

  1. Skeet Cullum, the forensic psychologist in The Crowning Circle, has non-standard theories about death, which have appeared in fiction before. Near the end of ch.2 of Women in Love, D. H. Lawrence wrote:
    "No man" said Birkin "cuts another man's throat unless. . .the other man wants it cutting. . . It takes two people to make a murder: a murderer and a murderee. And a murderee is a man who. . .in a profound and hidden lust desires to be murdered."

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Media Reviews


The Crowning Circle is well written, powerfully written, a gripper with a fine blend of cultures, brains & brawn, honor, trust & history. Great ingredients for a suspense novel.

The Blue Iris Journal

This is an excellent novel in almost all aspects; and with so many of my established favorites weakening, this was a real pleasure. I hope that Ms. Lankford is inspired and we meet these characters again someday down the road. In the meantime, be very, very careful of what you secretly wish for--it may just come true.

Author Blurb Lynn Hoffman, Author of The Bachelor's Cat from HarperCollins
You know those page-turner novels that suck you in so thoroughly that you find yourself holding them in your lap at 2 a.m. with your eyes burning from lack of sleep? Remember the book that you were sad to finish because you missed the characters and wanted to spend more time with them? This is that book. What makes it a 'new fashioned page turner' is that it captures the texture of real American life while it pulls you in. If Barbara Kingsolver wrote mysteries, she'd write them like this.

Author Blurb Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution
The best part of The Crowning Circle is the development of the character of Dr. John Skeet Cullum, a Viet Nam vet now serving as a forensic psychologist to the police department of a small city. His experiences and philosophies will interest you. The novel is also noteworthy for the high tech perspectives of Jake Morrison, CEO of Solutions, Inc. which has a global inventing practice. The two of them combine the most unusual detection methods I have seen in many years. The plot, although solid, does have its jerky moments, but if you are like me you'll find the suspense keeping you up until the wee hours to finish the book.

Reader Reviews

Natasha Johnson

It was like i was living out the novel.
It started great and it just captures you, you feel as if you are actually one of the characters in this book. It was just a great find loved it would highly recommend this book.

Bong D. Fabe, Deputy Bureau Chief, The Manila Times Visayas Bureau, Philippines
Jamie Rhines Lankford's third book and first published novel, The Crowning Circle, is a thriller of a friendship and relationship gone sour but saved by the most ...   Read More

Chuck Schwager, a reader from Sudbury, MA USA
"How many murder mysteries are at their core a meditation on love? In my experience, not many. But in Lankford's novel, we are treated to an intellectual thriller with the most unusual cast of ...   Read More

Sandi von Pier, a 39-year old MOM from New Jersey.
"I loved the characters, especially Jake, because I just love how quiet and shy he is. But I love Skeet too. He's an endearing man, but closed up like so many men I know. I loved how the author ...   Read More

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