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by Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen, June 2014
250 pages
ISBN: 1464203008

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The continually evolving and growing Tucker family is part of the backbone of Boynton, Oklahoma. Hardworking, generous, loving, and moral, Alafair and Shaw Tucker have ten children spanning from small child to married adult. Although Alafair is the center of the family and what goes on, the spotlight in this novel is on daughter Ruth as she begins to attract the attention of the local young men, particularly Deputy Sheriff Trenton Calder. Ruth is often in town at music teacher Beckie MacKenzie's house helping with giving piano lessons and honing her skills for entering a music academy in the Fall.

Another smitten young man is Jubal Belton whose family is nearly the opposite of the Tuckers: six trouble-making brothers and a widowed mother whose purpose in life is to keep house for them and dote on her tiny daughter. Jubal's habit has been to ferret out other people's guilty secrets and hold his knowledge over them. When he stumbles upon a particularly awful secret, he turns from irritating and humiliating his victims to blackmail.

With little warning, the small town and its surrounding area is devastated by a large tornado which draws into action most of the still able-bodied population to search for the missing, tend to the wounded, and gather the dead into the makeshift morgue, all while rounding up supplies quilts, food, shelter, medical help to care for those most damaged by the storm. The town undertaker notices that one of the dead is much farther advanced in rigor than any of the others and although he has a broken neck, he also has a nasty stab wound.

So added to the huge cast of largely interrelated characters is the speculation that many indulge in, trying to figure out whether this person was murdered before the tornado hit and if so, by whom. The Deputy Sheriff plays a key role in establishing the truth while doing everything else that is expected of him and managing to keep himself in close contact with the Tuckers so that he can be close to Ruth.

Early twentieth century Oklahoma may well be as foreign to readers under fifty as a setting in another country, but author Doris Casey does a masterful job of establishing the landscape and making us comfortable with it. The large number of characters, rather than confusing, actually serves to bring a certain reality to the setting. All of us are used to being frequently in places where we know a few people well, many more from shared interests, and most by nodding acquaintance that's pretty much how this novel works. And it works well.

The mystery and its resolution are challenging and satisfying. This looks like a well-grounded and nicely presented series.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, June 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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