Monday, December 12, 2016

Marjorie Trumaine Mysteries by Larry Sweazy

Reviewed by Jeanne

Marjorie Trumaine is a farm wife in North Dakota.  Life isn’t easy at the best of times, what with any number of disasters waiting to take out the crops and the livestock, and these are far from the best of times.  An accident has left her husband an invalid, and Marjorie has taken on work as an indexer to try to eke out a living for them both.  This would be unusual, even today; in 1964, it’s downright odd.  Even with the extra income, Marjorie wouldn’t be able to keep the farm if it weren’t for the help of Knudsen boys, Peter and Jaeger, who do many of the chores.  

When Sheriff Hilo Jenkins turns up on her doorstep, Marjorie knows it can’t be for anything good, but she isn’t prepared for the shocking news that her neighbors Eric and Lida Knudson have been murdered.  Eric was found with a strange amulet in his hand, and knowing that Marjorie is a thorough researcher who can keep a secret, Hilo asks her to try to find out as much information as she can about the amulet.

So begins the first Marjorie Trumaine book, See Also Murder.  Larry Sweazy does an incredible job of creating a believable and relatable character in Majorie and in rooting her in a specific time and place, and he does so with a great deal of subtlety.  He doesn’t beat his readers over the head, but lets the details tell the story: the party line telephone, the disapproval by most at letting the farm dog inside the house, the near constant feel of the wind.  The mystery and its solution seemed just a bit far fetched to me, I will admit, but frankly I didn’t care.  I am enchanted with Marjorie.  She’s a strong, competent woman who loves her husband and the land.  She loves learning and order, and takes pride in her work as an indexer. I’d never given much thought to North Dakota as a place, but Sweazy makes it so vivid that now I want to see it for myself.  The culture is well done.  The population seems largely composed of Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants, which ties in with the Norse symbolism on the amulet, but is also reflected in attitudes and food. I also very much liked how she is drawn into the mystery.  Many amateur sleuths are sort of shoe-horned in on the investigation due to a friend or relative being accused or just out of pure nosiness.  I’m willing to overlook that because, hey, I’m agreeing to the conventions of the amateur detective genre but I don’t need to have the author manufacture many, many explanations for why an amateur is involved. The latter can be annoying.  That is most definitely not a concern for me  in these books.

I actually started with the second book in the series, See Also Deception.  I picked it up on the basis of a review and thought I’d give it a try.  It was my read-at-lunch book, and I could just put it aside if I didn’t like it.  Instead, I was hooked immediately, mostly because of Marjorie.  She’s a fully developed character from the start and someone I would very much like to know.  As soon as I finished that book, I found the first in the series (every bit as good) and checked to see when the next one is due out.  Alas, it isn’t until May, 2017.

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