Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Thoughtful Review

In my traditional mystery, Speaking of Murder (published under pseudonym Tace Baker), linguistics Professor Lauren Rousseau occasionally falls back for comfort and guidance from her Quaker faith as she searches for her student's murder amid small-town intrigues and other threats.

Callie Marsh, a Friend I do not know personally, has reviewed the book for the West Branch Friends Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) newsletter. She gave me permission to share her very thoughtful review from the point of view of a mystery lover AND a Quaker. I copy the review here unaltered. Thanks, Callie!

Review of Speaking of Murder by Tace Baker

Tace Baker is a pseudonym for Edith Maxwell, a Quaker writer from New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. She chose her pen name before she knew that one of the first Quaker printer/publishers was also named Tace. She was Tace Sowle, (1666–1749), who inherited her father’s print shop and made a good busi-ness of it, an unusual feat for a woman of her time. Speaking of Murder, published in September 2012, is Maxwell’s first full-length mystery, and I am looking forward to more. She writes well. The pace is good, the characters, likable and real. Her protagonist is Lauren Rousseau, a college professor of linguistics at a small New England college in Ashford, Massachusetts. The story moves, however, from the life of academia and its own intense political ins and outs out into the wider community, including the sea front of a coastal town and the daily comings and goings of a variety of townspeople. Maxwell introduces her reader to the rich and lively world of an old New England small town without sentimentality or romanticism. She creates her novel with integrity and care.

I was delighted to see how well Maxwell navigates across social and economic differences. Her portrayal of the community is sensitive, without suffering from self-conscious anxiety about racism or classism. This is no small task. It is encouraging to see Maxwell’s writing reflect how Friends and the broader European-American views and cultural mores about race and sex can shift with work and time. The novel reflects this transition and invites us to grow with it.

Maxwell writes comfortably about her Quaker professor. Lauren is a Friend many of us might know and enjoy. Her Quaker understanding of the world is woven into who she is and how she lives without being preachy or overly theological. I felt very comfortable with her. It is fun to read a novel when one feels a bond of common beliefs and customs with the protagonist. Yet the book will read well for a general audience too, perhaps raising some mild curiosity in the non-Quaker reader.

I was fully engrossed in the story itself. The book is hopefully the first of a series, setting the stage for future books. Not unnaturally in a first book, I came away wanting Maxwell to deepen her characters, give me more understanding of why and how they are who they are. As Maxwell continues to write about these people, first she and then we, her readers, will come to know her characters more fully, developing a lasting friendship with them. I look forward to that.

Maxwell also writes the Local Foods Mysteries, in which organic farmer Cam Flaherty has to deal not only with eager locavores but also murder on the farm. A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die will be published later this spring. Maxwell promises she will get back to Lauren Rousseau and the town of Ashford, Massachusetts. You can buy Speaking of Murder at quakerbooks.org, the Friends General Conference website, or on amazon.com. It is available in electronic or hard copy. You can find Edith at her website, edithmaxwell.com. Enjoy. . .

Reviewed by Callie Marsh

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