May 5, 2008
Correction: In my March post, I stated that Nora DeLoach wrote nine novels featuring her amateur detective Mama (Grace (Candi) Covington). She wrote eight not nine novels featuring Mama. The ninth novel, Silas, is not a mystery but a parable about evil.
In Mama Traps A Killer, the second novel in the Mama series, Mama again handles two unrelated murder cases, and again one is in the small community of Ridgeland in South Carolina and the other is in Atlanta. No connection exists between the murders in Ridgeland and the one in Atlanta. Each plot could stand alone as a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. For convenience, I call the Atlanta murder a minor plot because it takes up only a fourth of the novel.
In the minor plot, Simone’s boss, attorney Jacoby, is defending Thomas Matthews, a homeowner, who shot and killed Stephen Foster. Matthews alleges it was self-defense because Foster had a gun and was attempting to burglarize his home. No gun was found on the dead man.
In the minor plot, Mama shows Simone how to interview witnesses. Simone and Mama visit Mrs. Matthews to get her story of what happened. Mama’s relaxing and smiling demeanor puts Mrs. Matthews at ease. She indicates to the witness that she understands, and gently encourages the witness to continue talking. Mama pays special attention to Mrs. Matthews’s description of the behavior of the dog, Leonard. Neither she nor Mr. Matthews noticed the dog’s actions after the shooting because, according to Mrs. Matthews, the dog never did anything without being told.
The minor plot pays homage to the Arthur Conan Doyle short story “Silver Blaze” about the curious incident of the dog that didn’t bark.
The Ridgeland plot is longer and slightly more complicated, requiring the collection and interpretation of evidence more than the interviewing of witnesses. James, Mama’s husband, wants her to find a missing young man named Danny Jones, whom he has befriended. She finds his body, and, later not far from where Danny’s body was found, parts of the body of a young woman. She learns in her investigation that the young woman was Janie Pope, a hooker whom Danny was seeing. When Mama finds the body of Danny, his shoes are missing.
The evidence—James’s gun and jacket and his acting peculiar—seem to indicate that James is somehow implicated in the murders. Mama believes James is being framed. Simone suspects her father might have killed Danny or is in some way implicated in his death. Because he refuses to explain his relationship with Danny, she imagines that he might be Danny’s father. Mama must find the killer fast before, like his daughter, the small community condemns James.
The possibility that James might somehow be involved Danny’s murder creates the tension and drives the Ridgeland plot. Our respect for Mama’s faith in her husband and her sleuthing ability in no way lessens our feeling that something in James’s relation with Danny has put him in serious trouble. With the help of the sheriff and a friend, Mama sets the trap for the murderer. The identity of the murder is indeed a genuine surprise, even to Mama.
Familial love is the major theme in the Ridgeland plot. I will say no more so as not to ruin the ending for you.
I think you will enjoy Mama Traps A Killer because of DeLoach's mastery of the technique of presenting two unrelated plots in the same novel. One other aspect of this method is that in the small South Carolina community, the characters are mostly Black; in Atlanta, except for Simone and her friends, the characters are White. Mama has no problem moving easily among Black and White folks.