Friday, September 9, 2016

Old Fashioned Murder by Carol Miller & Y'all

Reviewed by Jeanne

An Old Fashioned Murder by Carol Miller is the third in the “Moonshine Mystery” series.  Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the series centers on Daisy McGovern, a local girl who runs a bakery in town and lives with her invalid mother at an inn run by Aunt Emily, an elderly woman with firm views, a shotgun and a taste for good spirits (of the alcoholic sort, that is).  She’s being wooed—more or less—by the ever charming Rick Balsam who makes moonshine and has his fingers in any number of pies, some legal but most not.  The catch is that Daisy is still married, though her husband Matt took off about five years ago and hasn’t been heard from since.

Daisy, ever loyal, has had parts of her life on hold, waiting for Matt to come back.  Now, however, she is starting to lean toward the idea that he won’t, so she has begun dating Drew Alcott, a bat conservationist she met in the previous book. She’s looking forward to the upcoming weekend, as Aunt Emily has decided to have a weekend party for a group of friends—including Drew. The weekend starts to sour after one couple can’t make it, and Lillian and Parker Barker turn up instead. Lillian is Matt’s aunt and she takes a very dim view of Daisy doing anything other than sitting around waiting for Matt. Then an unusually severe winter storm moves in, blocking roads and cutting off electricity.  Just when it seems things can’t get worse, one of the guests is crushed when a bookcase falls over on him.  It appears to be just an unfortunate accident, but Daisy soon has reason to suspect otherwise.

I tend to be a bit nervous when I start a book set in Appalachia with a reference to “moonshine.” All too often this means that the characters are going to speak in a nearly unreadable dialect, visit outhouses, eschew shoes, and have far less than the usual number of teeth and/or fingers. However, I’m happy to report that while Carol Miller’s Appalachian Americans may use a certain number of country phrases, they do speak more or less Standard English.  In fact, I felt quite at home among this group, many of whom reminded me of someone I knew. The characters were treated as individuals, not stereotypes, and I found myself enjoying this one as much as I had the others.  There were a couple of times that I questioned some motives or actions, but most of the time I just enjoyed the characters and the setting.  For me, the book did a good job of capturing the flavor without being condescending.  Miller respects her characters. 

I also appreciated that the book becomes one of those classic “British country house mysteries” in that the murder has to have been committed by one of a small group of people in the house, and that the murderer has to still be there.  As I said earlier, there were a couple of explanations that I didn’t quite buy but the rest of the book was good enough that I’m willing to let that pass.  I like these people:   Aunt Emily, a strong woman with a tender side and enough foibles to make her human, and who names the rooms in her inn after Civil War generals; Daisy’s mother, Lucy, who remains a sweet, strong spirit despite her physical infirmities; Rick Balsam, the shrewd moonshiner who may or may not have ulterior motives; Henry Brent, the elderly local historian who takes great pride in both his knowledge and his dapper appearance; and, of course, Daisy, the waitress turned small business owner who is trying to take charge of her own life.  Other characters were much less likable but still memorable, especially Lillian, who never misses a chance to take a dig at Daisy—or anyone else, for that matter. 

I’m more than ready and willing to pull up a chair in the parlor and spend more time with these folks. This entry in the series can be read as a standalone but if you’re like me and like to read in order, start with Murder and Moonshine, followed by  A Nip of Murder.

Then there’s One Foot in the Grove by Kelly Lane.  The book has an intriguing premise: an infamous “runaway bride” comes back to the family farm in Georgia to help her father with his olive orchard. Eva seemed likeable enough despite her unfortunate habit of running out on grooms and I thought the olive angle might be intriguing.  I’ve read numerous glowing reviews about this first in series book, but I gave up after about 40 pages for what some might consider a very silly reason.

It’s all due to “y’all.”

In my experience, the word(s) “you all” or “y’all” is the plural of “you.”  When I ask one person "How are y’all doing?”, I am inquiring about the person and his or her family and I expect to hear reports on more than one person.  If I said, “How are YOU doing?” I am asking about that person and no one else. I checked with colleagues and they agree.  In Ms. Lane’s book, however, she uses “y’all” in place of “you.”  As in, “Y’all put on this [one] pair of pants.” Unless the pants are big enough to fit two people or more, this sentence makes no sense to me.  It happened again and again, which is why I gave up. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but every time it happened, I’d spend a moment or two re-reading the sentence to try to figure out  who else was being spoken to and it took me right out of the story. The blurb says the author lives in Charlottesville, VA but I would bet money she is not a native Southerner.

However, if someone wants to cook some of the luscious sounding recipes in the back of the book, I wouldn’t say no to a taste.  

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