Sunday, June 28, 2015

See Also Murder: Larry D. Sweazy

In 1964, on a farm in North Dakota, Erik and Lida Knudsen are found murdered in their bed, their throats slit. Their two sons—Jaeger and Peter, ages 19 and 20—heard nothing while asleep in their rooms. Sheriff Hilo Jenkins visits Marjorie Trumaine immediately after he leaves the crime scene. He has found an amulet clasped in Erik’s hand. Because Marjorie is considered the smartest person in the area, he asks her to investigate the amulet, which has unusual markings. She suspects that the markings are from Norse mythology, partly because of the many people with Norwegian ancestry in the area. And because Hilo is a close friend, she agrees to get involved, although they both know that his request is very unorthodox.


I liked so many things about this book, it is hard to know where to begin. Let's start with my favorite part. The main character is an indexer, a person who creates the index for non-fiction books. She does this work freelance and she is doing it to make money that she and her husband badly need. They own a farm in North Dakota in 1964, they are financially strapped as was common at the time, and her husband has become an invalid due to an accident on the farm. She became an indexer before her husband's accident, but now the money is even more necessary to their ability to hold onto the farm.

I love indexes in books. I think I always have. I used the library a lots as a child and learned to write research papers with footnotes and references when I was in elementary school. When I worked for a publisher (of historical serials and reference books), I was exposed to indexing from the technical side of it. We had a system called SPindex that "spun" or rotated a set of index terms so that they all were listed together in the index in a string, for each indexed term. And I still look at the index in any non-fiction book before I look at anything else.

So the book had me as soon as I read the summary on the back. My husband, who also worked for the same publisher for many years, found the book for me and pointed out that the main character was an indexer. We both thought it was the perfect book for me, and I hoped it would live up to my expectations.

The setting in 1964 was appealing. I was a teenager in 1964 and my home in the deep South in a big city was nothing like a farm in North Dakota, but I could picture the cars and remember what life, and especially the life of a woman, was like at that time. The story makes the daily work of a farm feel real; the requirements of tending to the farm cannot be ignored while Marjorie investigates per Hilo's request. Marjorie loves the farm and life on the farm, even though her father had hoped she would go to college.

This is a gritty crime story; there is violence but it is not graphic and does not overwhelm the story. Other murders follow; for a small rural community where everyone knows everyone and frequently depends on their help, this is an unheard of occurrence. I did not come close to guessing the ending, and as soon as the culprit was revealed, I realized I should have. The author did a great job of misdirecting me, while leaving plenty of clues.

See Also Murder exceeded my expectations. There is a lot of depth to this story. Marjorie has an antagonistic relationship with her cousin, who is a professor at a college in the nearby town, and looks down on Marjorie because she is not college-educated. She is content with her life (as much as she can be in the circumstances), but her love of books and learning leaves her with cravings that are fulfilled by the indexing jobs. Beyond the tension of the continuing crimes,  there is the emotional strain of needing to keep up with both the farm work and the indexing work, which is on a deadline for publication, because she needs the money and can't afford to antagonize the publisher she is working with.

The story is told from Marjorie's point of view, in first person. Marjorie is a wonderful character. Her life has taken some very bad turns, but she takes things in stride and gets on with what needs to be done. She isn't perfect, but she is a strong person that we can believe in. The relationship with her invalid husband is very well done; they are still in a partnership in making decisions about the farm, but she is the one who has to manage it all.

The author, Larry D. Sweazy, is an indexer and has been doing that work for many years. He also has written several Western novels, which I intend to try. See his website for more information.

See also reviews from other sources:


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Publisher:  Seventh Street Books, 2015.
Length:      250 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      North Dakota
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.


17 comments:

  1. I had a slow reading weekend so I'm only about 70 pages in myself. Glad to see you really liked this one.

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    1. I was very pleased with the book, Col, and I hope you enjoy it too. I will be interested to see what you think of it.

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  2. Oh, this does sound like a winner, Tracy. An indexer as the sleuth - so innovative and a good choice. The story itself sounds good, too.

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    1. Margot, I am sure it is obvious from my review that I liked this a lot. Good story, a setting I liked, good building of tension.

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  3. This sounds good, I love a good index myself, in fact I always look at them first, just in case my own surname is there, it's of Norwegian extraction. I taught my kids to look up indexes as soon as they could read, teachers weren't happy about that. Obviously I was seen as stealing their job!

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    1. The book is very good, Katrina, in both the descriptions of her life as an indexer and farm owner, and in the mystery. That is interesting about your kids and indexes.

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  4. This one sounds really good! I've put it on my wishlist. Thanks Tracy.

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    1. This book reminded me of Eleven Days by Donald Harstad, Keishon. Not from the same point of view, of course, but I saw a lot of similarities.

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    2. Well, I must push this one up, then.

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  5. I loved ELEVEN DAYS by Donald Harstad, In fact, I've loved all his books - though there aren't that many, he writes slowly, I suppose. But I like your comparison. It's enough to make me want to try this book. Thanks for another good review.

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    1. Yvette, I had to go see how many books that Harstad has written. Not enough. I have the 2nd in the series to read, but a few ahead of me.

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    2. Harstad has another book coming out this fall and I was happy to see it.

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    3. I am glad to hear that, also.

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  6. I'd seen a reference to this one before, and dithered a bit, but you've convinced me I would really like it... I'm another fan of indexes. (and footnotes, and tables of contents)

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    1. I was happy that the indexer as protagonist prompted me to try this book, unusual for me to read one so soon after it is published. I liked it a lot and I hope it does well for the author so there will be others.

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  7. Tracy, nicely reviewed. I'm familiar with Larry D. Sweazy's fiction, particularly his westerns, though I didn't know he wrote mysteries or short fiction.

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    1. Prashant, I remember you mentioned his westerns before. I want to try one of those for sure.

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