I'll admit I read Donis Casey's mysteries as much for the story of Alafair Tucker's life as I do for the mystery itself. This farm wife and mother of ten has a wisdom gained from appreciation of her elders' knowledge, and from the hard daily life of an Oklahoma wife and mother in the early twentieth century. All of her skills come into play in The Return of the Raven Mocker.
It's 1918. The war is on the minds of everyone in Boynton, Oklahoma. Most of the men are at war, even Alafair's seventeen-year-old, who enlisted at sixteen. The doctors have been taken for the war effort. So, when the influenza pandemic finally reaches Boynton, it's up to the women in town to handle the homefront battlefield, tending the sick, trying to keep the healthy well. When Alafair's daughter and son-in-law fall to the flu, she and her married daughters put together a plan before her husband, Shaw, even knows it. Alafair moves to town while one daughter and her husband move to Shaw's farm, and all of the school age children and the young grandchildren move to another daughter's farm. She plans the farm quarantine, and then goes to town to take care of Alice and her husband.
Alafair tends the sick, talks to her daughter, Martha, who is in charge of the Red Cross women who are doing what they can for the victims, reads the mail from her sons. But, it's the tending to the sick that takes all of her energy and time, hours of laundry, and cooking, and trying to keep them alive. She does get a little relief talking across the fence to Nola Thomason, Alice's neighbor. But, when screams take her to the Thomasons' house, she finds Nola and her adult son, Lewis, dead. However, after tending the sick, Alafair suspects Nola and Lewis did not die from the flu. It's her daughters who remember Alafair's grandmother telling stories of violent deaths when the Raven Mocker thought a victim was evil. Alafair doesn't want to believe in the old tale, but she knows something was wrong with how the Thomasons died.
In Donis Casey's skilled hands, Alafair Tucker and her family once more come to life. Casey excels in relating the day-to-day details of their lives. In this case, it's the details of how a community quarantined itself, shutting schools and churches and businesses. There are all the details as Alafair nurses the sick, including the details of the country remedies. The book mentions the reluctance of morticians to handle the dead, the fear that people had as so many died. Yet, in the midst of war and the flu, there was still murder. And, Alafair Tucker, with her deep understanding of people, and her motherly skill of listening closely to people, finally discovers the killer at the Thomasons'.
The Return of the Raven Mocker is a successful story of Oklahoma life in the early twentieth century, and murder, as only Donis Casey can write it.
Donis Casey's website is www.doniscasey.com
The Return of the Raven Mocker by Donis Casey. Poisoned Pen Press. 2017. ISBN 9781464207363 (paperback), 218p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.