Forty Dead Men by Donis Casey
Scott Tucker, constable for the town of Boynton, Oklahoma, was glad to have his deputy back. His eldest son, Slim Tucker, had made an adequate fill-in deputy while Trenton Calder was away on a ship in the North Atlantic, fighting the War to End All Wars, but Slim was an oilman down to his toes, and though he had done his duty to his father, his heart hadn't been in it. Slim was now back surveying for the Pure Oil Company, where he belonged, and Trent had donned his badge again.
Oh, how I love this series! I really do. In this 10th book featuring Alafair Tucker and her family, our early 20th century timeline has moved on to 1918-1919. The war that took both of Alafair's sons away is at an end. The older, Gee Dub, has returned home. Charlie, the younger son, is still away. Gee Dub has always been a steady, level-headed individual. He has 8 sisters and he handles that well. He's a natural sharpshooter, a person that would certainly be a sniper in today's military or police force. However, Alafair is troubled. She knows that Gee Dub has come home different, so very different. And she understands that war will change a man, but still...she's worried.
As we wind our way through the story, we meet a few new characters and revisit familiar faces. Each of Donis Casey's books in the series have focused in a way on one of the Tucker children. The previous book's story included the Spanish flu epidemic (1918) and how it affected and changed the people of Boynton. The results of the flu are still apparent here and still touching lives. Many of the soldiers returning home were either stricken as they came back on US shores or brought the flu home to their loved ones. Forty Dead Men includes a returning solder that is found dead, a victim of the flu. It also includes a young woman searching for her soldier husband. Gee Dub comes across the woman and her story impacts the Tucker family in a big way.
So, what would I suggest if you're interested in this series? Well, of course I would suggest that you begin at the first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. However, the author does include a list of characters at the beginning and tells how they are connected. There is also a map and recipes at the end. Though I've never tried any of the recipes, many of them make me smile. They remind me of my grandmothers and my great-grandmother. My mother's family was from Oklahoma, not far from where the Tuckers would have lived. I hope that Donis Casey continues writing this series for a long time to come, though I have heard that she doesn't want to include the Dust Bowl in her tales. Still, I'll be watching for the next book. This series is highly recommended if you like historical family tales with a mystery or two to liven things up.
World War I is over. Alafair is overjoyed that her elder son, George Washington Tucker, has finally returned home from the battlefields of France. Yet she is the only one in the family who senses that he has somehow changed.
Gee Dub moves back into his old bunkhouse quarters, but he's restless and spends his days roaming. One rainy day while out riding he spies a woman trudging along the country road. She's thoroughly skittish and rejects his help. So Gee Dub cannily rides for home to enlist his mother in offering the exhausted traveler shelter.
Once made comfortable at the Tucker farm, Holly Johnson reveals she's forged her way from Maine to Oklahoma in hopes of finding the soldier she married before he shipped to France. At the war's end, Daniel Johnson disappeared without a trace. It's been months. Is he alive? Is she a widow?
Holly is following her only lead - that Dan has connected with his parents who live yonder in Okmulgee. Gee Dub, desperate for some kind of mission, resolves to shepherd Holly through her quest although the prickly young woman spurns any aid. Meanwhile, Alafair has discovered that Gee Dub sleeps with two cartridge boxes under his pillow - boxes containing twenty "dead men" each. The boxes are empty, save for one bullet. She recognizes in Gee Dub and Holly that not all war wounds are physical.
Then Holly's missing husband turns up, shot dead. Gee Dub is arrested on suspicion of murder, and the entire extended Tucker family rallies to his defense. He says he had no reason to do it, but the solitary bullet under Gee Dub's pillow is gone. Regardless, be he guilty or innocent, his mother will travel any distance and go to any lengths to keep him out of prison.