Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading. This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of The Return of the Raven Mocker, the 9th book in Donis Casey's Alafair Tucker mystery series. I love Donis' series featuring Alafair, her husband Shaw, and their many children. And this one, set in 1918, has a flu angle. Seemed appropriate after my recent bout. See what you think:
People die all kinds of ways. Some die in war, some die of sickness, and some people die because of the hatred of others. But on the fine soft Sunday morning of September 1, 1918, Alafair Tucker was not thinking of all the ways that people die. She was thinking that when Monday came, her youngest child, Grace, was going to start the first grade.
On that day, the congregation of the first Christian Church of Boynton, Oklahoma, prayed for a speedy end to the Great War in Europe. The new preacher, Mr. Huster, didn't ask that the enemy be annihilated and crushed into dust, as did many of his flock in their private prayers, but that the better angels of human nature would prevail and peace and goodwill be restored between nations.
Alafair Tucker prayed for an end to hostilities as hard as anyone. But she didn't hold out much hope that reason would prevail any time soon. She hadn't seen any evidence of reason in her fellow man for some time now.
World War I is raging in Europe, but as the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918 sweeps like a wildfire through Boynton, Oklahoma, Alafair Tucker is fighting her own war. Her daughter, Alice, and son-in-law, Walter Kelley, have both come down with the flu, and Alafair has moved into town to care for them after quarantining her young children at their sister’s farm. Boynton as a whole isolates itself like an old English plague village, discouraging anyone from coming into town and the residents from traveling outside. A new doctor applies science to treating the stricken, but Alafair applies all she knows about hygiene, nutrition, and old and trusted country remedies. Unable to aid her sons and sons-inlaw fighting overseas, this is danger she can combat.
One autumn afternoon, screams coming from next door alert Alafair that Alice’s neighbor, Nola Thomason, and her son Lewis have suddenly and unexpectedly succumbed. Yet there is something about the way the pair died that causes Alafair to suspect their deaths were due to poison rather than to influenza. The epidemic is so overwhelming that it is many days before the only doctor left in town can confirm Alafair’s suspicions; neither Nola nor Lewis died of the flu. The only witness to their deaths, twelve-year-old Dorothy Thomason, a special friend of Alafair’s daughter, Sophronia, is so traumatized that she is rendered mute. Were Nola and her son murdered, and if so, why?
The usual motives for murder are greed, or jealousy, or hatred. Or could it be, as Alafair fears, that the Raven Mocker, the most dreaded of the Cherokee wizards or witches, the evil spirit who takes to the air in a fiery shape to rob the old, the sick, and the dying of their lives, is hunting victims and bringing misery to the innocent?
My mystery book group is reading books published by the Poisoned Pen Press for our March meeting. I decided to catch up on this series in preparation. I have the previous book to read before this one, All Men Fear Me, which details the beginning of WWI and how the Tucker family members become involved. Have I said that I love this series? Donis is a lovely person and these tales are based on her family and their Oklahoma life. My mother's family was from Oklahoma too, so many of the stories and lore remind me of my great-grandparents and grandparents.