I’d thought of dressing up, putting on my one fine black dress and pillbox hat, but I would be wearing it plenty in the next few days. It wasn’t like I had a huge wardrobe to choose from. Dress up occasions had always been rare: weddings and funerals mostly. I had on my best everyday dress, a light shade of gray with a broad white collar, cut below the knee – another McCall’s pattern that I’d sewn myself a few years ago. The dress went with my best shoes – the black ones with the thick sensible heels that had been originally bought for Sundays and expected events.
Most of my clothes were utilitarian. Fashion was the least of my worries on the farm
commentary: This is yet another book recommended by blogging friends Tracy K (at Bitter Tea and Mystery) and Col (Col’s Criminal Library) – Col donated his copy of the book. I think, rather neatly, I liked it more than Col did, but less than Tracy did.
The protagonist is Marjorie Trumaine, a farmer’s wife in North Dakota in 1964. Her husband has been badly hurt in a hunting accident, and an already harsh life has become that much harder to cope with. She makes some extra money doing some indexing for New York publishers. The farm is just outside a small town, and she knows everyone.
A horrific double murder interrupts this: her neighbours, another farming couple, are found with their throats cut. There’s a strange amulet on the scene, and Marjorie starts to investigate where it might have come from, if it has any special meaning. This takes her into a bigger town, with a university, and an encounter with a librarian friend, and an antagonistic cousin. More murders follow, and it seems Marjorie may be in danger.
This was a very interesting and unusual book, for several reasons. Firstly, it was more like a literary novel in its portrayal of a way of life in a specific time and place. It reminded me of many books with a similar setting, from Willa Cather’s My Antonia, to Kent Haruf’s work, and Jane Smiley’s recent novels. Secondly, the author, a man, has chosen to write in a woman’s voice, and very effectively too. If I had read it without knowing I would absolutely have assumed a woman wrote it – the details of life, and clothes, and ways of thinking were wholly convincing. I liked reading about her profession of indexer too.
In fact I liked all that a lot better than I liked the murder plot, which was completely over the top and not wholly convincing – the violence and gruesomeness seemed unnecessary and I’m not sure how well the story hung together. As Col said, there were a lot of unanswered questions when you thought it over later.
But I’m guessing this is the first of a series of investigations by Marjorie, and I would certainly read more.
The main picture is of a woman called Mildred Yoder doing some sewing in Minot, North Dakota.
The woman sitting at her desk is from the Library of Congress and is from a much earlier date – 1935 – but I liked her cheery face, and Marjorie does enjoy her work in the book.
Thanks again to Col for the book.