[Set in 1964]
The modern look was taking over the world and had come to North Dakota via magazines and television. From what I understood there was a British invasion descending upon us. I wasn’t sure what that meant, since I was more worried about the Russians than a quartet of mop-headed musicians. But even with a hint of the modern, there was no mistaking Betty Walsh for a farm girl. She had on a pair of well-worn denim pants and a red plaid shirt that looked like it might have come straight out of Jaeger’s closet...
The wind had a voice all of its own. The wind was so common – omnipresent – and I was so accustomed to it that I barely noticed – at least until it sang in the depths of winter. Just to remind me that it was there, a hard gust pushed up my back, and I instinctively pushed my hand down to trap my simple navy blue dress against my thigh. I’d made the dress myself from a McCall’s pattern. It was one of three that I owned that were suitable to go into town in, even though it had seen its better days. I hadn’t had time to sit down at the sewing machine lately. Betty looked at me like I was an old lady, and she was probably right, even though I was just shy of 36. I felt old. All of my friends were dying anyway.
commentary: First point about the clothes description is that there is room for a strange ambiguity for UK readers – Jaeger is the name of a British fashion design house, and ‘clothes from their closet’ would not be jeans and a plaid shirt, more likely a smart suit, or a navy dress like the one the narrator is wearing. (In the book, Jaeger is Betty’s boyfriend.) Second point – is this a regional difference? – ‘there was no mistaking Betty Walsh for a farm girl’ to me means she doesn’t look like one, where the point is clearly that she does. Is it a colloquial or US usage?
No complaints though – this is the second in Larry D Sweazy’s excellent series, and it is even better than the first - on the blog here. The earlier one had some unrestrained and gruesome violence which seemed unnecessary – this one is far from cozy, but the whole story hung together better. The books feature Marjorie Trumaine, a farmer’s wife in North Dakota in the 1960s, who has trained as an indexer, looks after a husband paralyzed in an accident, and investigates crimes. This time, sadly, it’s her friend Calla the librarian who is dead . (Sadly, because Calla was a fine character who would have been a continuing asset to the books.) Marjorie uses her logical mind to make connections and links and try to work out what’s going on. She also gives us her strong and uncompromising views (read: prejudices) on this and that as she goes along.
Marjorie is not wholly likeable – she is an annoying but very real person. At one point she apologizes for having ‘acted like a mean old harpy’ – but that seems to be all she ever does. And, as with so many fictional characters, she is very hard on other people’s attitudes and manners while continuing to behave badly herself. But with all that, she’s great fun to read about, the plot was intriguing, and the descriptions of life on the remote farm, and the weather, and the nearby small town are all wholly convincing and fascinating. And there was quite a major incident at the end – leaving me looking forward even more to the next book to see how things change. The words “She’s a treat” are used sarcastically about another character in the book – but Marjorie really is one. Let’s hope for a long series.
This book is the high cusp of overlap in the blogs of my friends Tracy (Bitter Tea and Mystery) and Col (Col’s Criminal Library). They introduced me to Sweazy, and now we are all fans, and Col actually sent me a copy of this book. Thanks to both....
The girl in jeans is from the State Library of Queensland. The other pics are dress patterns Marjorie might have used.