June 9, 2008


Mama Stands Accused opens with the subplot in which Sudie Patterson, one of Mama’s clients, accuses her of stealing food stamps ostensibly as revenge for Mama taking away her children. Although no one in the small community of Otis, South Carolina believes Sudie, the supervisor, following the rules, suspends Mama. James, Mama’s husband, and her daughter, Simone worry that Mama might go jail, but Mama is not worried, not even after Sudie’s body is found.

DeLoach uses the subplot not as a stand alone parallel plot, as in her first two novels, but as an incident to advance the main plot and show the character of Mama’s half sister, Agnes Clark, who is not above involving relatives and others in her criminal activities. In the main plot, Agnes is murdered with an ax in her own home. During her funeral, Mama receives news that Agnes’s mother-in-law, Mae Frances Clark, has been murdered, also with an ax.

Mama learns that Agnes’s husband Ben has been arrested and charged with her murder. She is upset and confronts him in jail. He denies killing Agnes. Mama tells him that last night she saw him standing on the porch with the ax in his hand. Ben admits he had been in the house but claims he doesn’t remember picking up the ax. He adamantly denies killing Agnes. The clues suggest that maybe Ben murdered Agnes after an argument about an alleged indiscretion in his youth and his current girl friend.

Ben’s position as a suspect is further complicated when Mama discovers that he once beat Agnes. He explains that he beat her because she was dealing drugs and didn’t stop when he told her to. Mama knows Agnes and her irritating personality, and believes Ben.

Ben breaks out of jail, and, while he is on the run, Mama learns that he also is the prime suspect in Mae Frances’s murder. An ex-girl friend of Ben claims that she saw him punch his fist through the wall while arguing with Mae Frances. The sheriff also believes Ben is guilty of murdering his own mother.

Mama is adamant in her belief in Ben’s innocence. He may have had a motive for killing Agnes, though she doesn’t believe he did it, Mama sees no motive for killing his mother. She must find the murderer to prove Ben didn’t do it. For Mama, the problem of the stolen food stamps is minor.

The confinement of Mama’s sleuthing to one locale instead of two makes for a tighter plot. DeLoach’s skillfully use the elements of the mostly like suspect, least likely suspect, distraction, and the detective as a suspect in some other, unrelated crime is admirable and shows she has master the classic method of telling the detective story.

However, I enjoyed the first two novels more because of the deviation from the convention of a single plot and confinement of the action to one locale.