4 out of 4 stars
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Dam Witherston by Betty Jean Craige is a murder mystery that follows Mev Arroyo, a detective in the small town of Witherston, and Jaime and Jorge, her twin sons. When a shack gets blown up and a skeleton is found in its ruins, they must investigate both this murder and a related blackmail case. Mayor Withers and attorney Grant Griggs, prominent figures in Witherston, are being blackmailed for large sums of money by someone using the alias of Donna Dam. This story takes place in the context of an overarching social conflict that threatens to change Witherston drastically, as Mayor Withers is attempting to build a dam that would create a lake over a large portion of land, including some Cherokee graves.
Many different plot elements are present in Dam Witherston, but they never feel overwhelming or confusing. This is largely due to the inclusion of several online articles posted on Witherston's online news bulletin, usually at the end of each chapter. Rather than merely summarizing plot events, though, these articles provide insight on what the residents of Witherston think and feel, leading to a better understanding of the community as a whole. This also serves to modernize the story, since technology is an important form of connection in today's world, even in small rural towns like Witherston.
Unity is an overarching theme in Craige's novel, alongside the preservation of nature and history. Emphasis is placed on characters' genes as a record of their personal history, and Craige has created a unique genetic composition for each of them, with the exception of the twins. This level of detail is quite striking. The idea of using modern technology to understand history plays into the book's overall themes very well, providing a level of depth that greatly improves immersion.
Since I received an advanced review copy of this book, it contained some minor grammatical errors. These weren't particularly distracting to the reading experience, though, and they probably won't be present in the final edition. Craige's writing style is compact and efficient, which allows the characters' words and actions to speak for themselves. I found this style very fitting, as the book is set in a rural town that has little use for formalities.
I greatly enjoyed reading Dam Witherston. The characters were unique and fleshed out, and it was clear that Craige knew the setting of the novel quite intimately. The mystery was exciting, and the broader social themes of the novel were tackled with respect. For these reasons, I rate Dam Witherston 4 out of 4 stars. I'd recommend it to lovers of murder mysteries, particularly anyone who is tired of stereotypical urban settings. Due to some sexual themes, it is not appropriate for younger audiences.
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