July 9, 2008
Mama Saves A Victim is the fourth novel in the DeLoach series of detective novels featuring Mama Covington, the extraordinary amateur detective in Otis, South Carolina. The case involves two women who are so much alike they could be twins, and two men who attempt to extort money from the father of one of the women.
On their way back to Otis from visiting cousin Hester, Simone, Mama’s daughter and narrator of their sleuthing adventures, hits a young woman with the car. Simone gets out of the car and stoops to see if she is injured, and immediately begins having a vision--sharp unrecognizable smell and a vague picture of a very frightening man--that will plague her throughout the novel.
The young woman is scared and seems to be running from someone. At the hospital to which Mama and Simone take her, she is listed as Jane Doe. Later, a man kidnaps her from the hospital. Mama feels she and Simone are responsible for the young woman’s plight, which is a sufficient reason for her to try to identify her and find out why kidnapped her and why.
For Simone, the vision is a nightmare. She has trouble sleeping and eating Mama’s good food. She is reluctant to tell Mama or Cliff, her boyfriend, about the vision because she thinks they will not believe her. Keeping the visions from them is difficult and adds to her anxiety when they notice several times that she doesn’t look well. Simone is eager to help Mama identify Jane Doe, and why and who kidnapped her because she believes the vision is somehow connected to the young woman.
As in most small communities, the residents of Otis are steeped in the history of the town. Mama relies on three gossipy friends for the history of most families in Otis, as well as current gossip. They and others tell her the story of a young woman who was abducted from the hospital just like Jane Doe after an accident six years ago. This information provides a clue that takes Mama into the relationships of White men and Black women in the South, and reveals the motivation for the kidnapping.
Although Cousin Hester’s history involving her son Fingers and their neighbor is interesting in itself, its function is to reveal an important clue to the identity of the murderer. Once the clue is revealed, DeLoach skillfully removes Hester, Fingers, and the neighbor from the story.
Ordinarily, I distrust mystery stories that rely on visions for the solution. In the case of Mama Saves A Victim the vision works because it is tied to reality and not based on the supernatural. The smell coming from Jane Doe triggers Simone’s memory of the traumatic experience that she has buried deep in her subconscious. The vision is the other clue, along with Cousin Hester’s history, that reveals the identity of the murderers. The identity is a surprise to Mama and the reader.
The coincident of the Jane Doe being kidnapped in a similar situation that happened six years ago works because the first kidnapping is tied to the motive for the two kidnappings.
Mama Saves A Victim shows that DeLoach is learning how to weave a tight plot using the conventions of the classical mystery story. Watching her develop her storytelling skills is a delight. The novel will not tax your mind with hidden clues, but it will provide an evening of enjoyable summer reading.