Or do you spend your Memorial Day struggling to catch up with the suddenly green grass, the garden plots, the gas grill that needs assembling before supper?
Good news: In addition to all of that, Memorial Day is the start of the summer reading season. And I have some great candidates for the stack.
CALLED TO JUSTICE is the second in Edith Maxwell's Quaker Midwife mystery series. So far, the books take place in Amesbury, Massachusetts, about 20 years after the Civil War. The town's status as a carriage center involves multiple mills making all the parts -- wood, leather, and more -- for horse-drawn carriages of varying levels of elegance. Thriving, prospering, the town therefore holds a significant number of people ... and various houses of worship, including a Friends (Quaker) Meetinghouse attended by the great Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. To Rose Carroll, a skilled but definitely blue-collar midwife in the town (and also a Quaker, or "Friend"), Whittier is a mentor for ethical decisions. And her calling, to assist women in the most dangerous (and joyous!) passage most of them will endure, takes her often to visit this semi-reclusive leader in her neighborhood.
As the book opens, Rose's feet ache from standing for the Independence Day speeches at the town center, including a volunteer reading aloud one of Whittier's poems written for a nearby statue of a signed of the Declaration of Independence, and saying:
And thou, O Land he loved, rejoiceRose herself takes on the responsibility to speak for freedom and justice a few hours later, when attending Fourth of July fireworks with her beau, a doctor -- they are called to try to save a gunshot victim, a 17-year-old girl, and then to speak up for one of the area's few African American residents, a former slave now a business owner, who is quickly accused of having something to do with the shooting.
That in the countless years to come,
Whenever Freedom needs a voice,
These sculptured lips shall not be dumb!
The girl can't be saved -- and Rose is further burdened with the knowledge that this teenage mill worker was pregnant, perhaps as a result of rape. Is the girl's condition connected with her death? Was the gunshot an accident, or was it murder?
Maxwell's lively mystery explores Rose's sense of what's right and just in her community and her spiritual home. Readers who read the first book (Delivering the Truth) will enjoy discovering that Rose's romantic life blossoms amid the investigation and attending childbirths, whether simple or risky. But Maxwell provides plenty of grounding to hold those who missed the first book (you may want to pick it up later). She also smoothly introduces Quaker customs, from the mostly silent meetings, to how decisions are made in the group, to private decision making and prayer -- as well as how a marriage takes place, something that may come to fruition later in the series!
Most importantly for mystery readers, the clues, twists, red herrings, and solutions in this historical crime novel are neatly assembled and intriguing. And, in the spirit of a season of patriotism that thrives during Memorial Day and again at Independence Day, midwife Rose Carroll takes her stand here for diverse types of justice: racial, gendered, and the human rights of the poor and less powerful.
A good read, and a delightful reward for a summer interlude, whether on a rainy afternoon or a sunny beach. Let me know your guesses for where Maxwell will take this series (from Midnight Ink) in the future -- I can hardly wait to discover more!