Saturday, November 08, 2014

Massachusetts Murder, Memorable Quaker Sleuth: Tace Baker's BLUFFING IS MURDER

Back in the 1990s I enjoyed a Quaker mystery series from Irene Allen, but it looks like the four books ended around 2001 and the author has retired -- including perhaps retiring from her "day job" as a geology professor and author in that field, under her "real" name, Dr. E. Kirsten Peters.

While looking back at those, I also ran across mention of another book that I'd never regarded as "Quaker" (that marvelous back-to-basics worship community formally known as the Society of Friends): The Witch of Blackbird Pond, one of my favorite "young adult" historical mysteries,

Now, with the November 11 release of BLUFFING IS MURDER from Tace Baker, we have the second in a fresh energetic series featuring amateur sleuth Lauren Rousseau. Like the author herself, Lauren is a linguist, and expects to be addressed as "Dr. Rousseau." But when the book opens, she's just headed into her first real summer break, the one that follows gaining tenure, when the career track makes some breathing space. And Lauren has extra flexibility because her habitual boyfriend Zac, who's been offering more commitment than she wanted, is flying out to Haiti for a family emergency. Lauren's on her own, and testing the he–she waters in her walkably cozy coastal Massachusetts town.

So it's tough luck that one of her first summer adventures leads to her discovering the body of Charles Heard, a Trustee of the local land trust. Lauren's been more involved with her college than her town (where she's a relatively recent transplant), but she quickly learns multiple reasons for bad feeling against Charles Heard -- including the way the land trust where he's so influential has been holding back money slated to improve the town's school, so the kids aren't getting their fair share of programs. Even the language program's being cut, a blow that especially hits hard for Lauren, with her fondness for many languages.

Author Tace Baker -- a pen name for Edith Maxwell, Massachusetts author of this series, a second one involving the "locavore" movement, and branching into an upcoming third under the pen name Maddie Day -- brings a good background to the book, with her own doctoral dissertation in linguistics, as well as many other writing hats. But what I enjoyed in particular is her sense of the emotional life of a smart, savvy, and single woman of a certain age -- mid thirties, here -- who's very, very work-capable but who's somewhat insecure about whether she is in or out of the dating game, and as a result, doesn't really check into or trust her own misgivings about some of the men who admire her. Because it's Lauren's casual acceptance of what her martial arts teacher Dan Talbot tells her, and the invitations he provides, that makes her vulnerable. And that's what takes her further into sleuthing than is wise ... and puts her under threat repeatedly.

Doubling the plot thread (and Lauren's emotional vulnerability) is the long-past death of this sleuth's father -- something she hasn't had time to look into until now. Is her hunt for that truth also putting her at risk?

Last but not least, what does Lauren bring to the sleuthing skills table as a result of being a lifelong Quaker, with a tradition of silent meditation and a search for divine guidance?

If, like me, you enjoyed that earlier series by Irene Allen, or you're curious about Quakers in fiction, or you enjoy a strong and vibrant amateur sleuth with an occasional but very human slip of judgment, check out this series. Book one is called Speaking of Murder (2012).  The series is from Barking Rain Press -- which offers the first four chapters of BLUFFING IS MURDER  free, in exchange for your contact info (click here) --  and the author will have a few touring events (see her website), as well as a number of online interviews. Thanks, Edith/Tace (and Maddie!) for this enjoyable traditional mystery!

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