4 out of 4 stars
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At 237 pages, Betty Jean Craige’s cozy mystery novel is quite an entertaining read. Despite being the fourth book in a series, Saxxons in Witherston easily stands alone, focusing on a murder investigation that features detective Mev Arroyo and her 17-year-old twins, Jorge and Jamie. The author did a great job in portraying the small community in Witherston, Georgia. The vivid descriptions of various places in the town and the lively conversations between the locals increase the sense of familiarity with both the setting and the characters.
The investigation proper covers two temporal lines since it skillfully interweaves a cold case and a violent murder forty years later. Jorge and Jamie’s friend, Beau Lodge, works with local historian, Dr. Charlotte Byrd, to solve the mystery of a racial murder in 1968. At the time, a black teenage boy, Tyrone Lincoln Lewis, was stabbed to death by members of the Ku Klux Klan. His white girlfriend, Allie Marie Camhurst, was reported missing and presumed dead. With no genuine interest from the authorities, years have passed by without a clue about the perpetrators’ identity.
In 2018, the Town Council in Witherston is on the verge of adopting the proposal to make it a Sanctuary City for undocumented immigrants. The decision does not only split the town in half, but it also stirs the strong reactions of a white supremacist group called the Saxxons. Assumingly a Saxxon himself, Crockett Boone Wood, spreads fliers with racist slogans and plans a rally on the day of the Council’s meeting. Everything changes when he is shot in the ramshackle outhouse of his log cabin. Chief Jake McCoy and Mev have to move quickly and find the murderer until things fall apart. The link between the two cases is what they need to lead them to the murder motive and the name of the culprit.
In a postmodernist fashion, Betty Jean Craige uses a variety of narrative techniques and strategies to keep the readers hooked from the first to the last page of the novel. Apart from the traditional third-person narration, the 16 chapters also include diary excerpts, online news, letters to the editor, newspaper articles, or references to the town’s archives. I loved the sensation that I was somehow accepted as a member of the local community that played a major role in solving the murder cases. The guessing game puts forward different scenarios while the ending comes with an unexpected twist of the plot.
I absolutely enjoyed the savory interactions of more or less prominent members of the Witherston community. The humorous and ironical exchanges between Rhonda Rather and Red Wilker directly target political demagogy. The topic of the Sanctuary City brings to light hidden prejudices and racial stereotypes. Most of the characters are purposefully sketched as having distinct ethnic origins so that they could deliver an overall message of unity, tolerance, and understanding. The planned Saxxon rally turns into a parody of their false claims of the superiority of the so-called Aryan race. The lessons of local history and the pages dedicated to the struggle for civil rights for African Americans are cleverly combined with more contemporary issues such as the controversies surrounding Trump’s campaign for presidency or the consequences of the Me Too Movement.
Although the book preserves a comforting air of relaxation, it succeeds in touching on sensitive issues as well. There are no graphic scenes or any kind of explicit offensive language, so it will appeal to both younger and more mature readers. I am rating Saxxons in Witherston 4 out of 4 stars with a special mentioning of its exceptional editing. Last but not least, I think all fans of cozy murder mystery fiction will find the novel a delightful read considering its suspenseful plot, challenging topics, and interesting characters. As far as I am concerned, I will definitely check the other books in the series too.
Saxxons in Witherston
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