February 22, 2010
Marti’s observation in Eleanor Taylor Bland’s eighth novel in the Marti MacAlister series on the case she and Vik have wrapped up is that “there were too many mothers involved.” The mothers are two who may be evicted from a nursing home, a mother who overindulges her son, a mother who is the victim of her son’s abuse, and a mother who is the heroine. The point of the novel is that women who are abused in one way or another often Scream In Silence.
Homicide detectives Marti MacAlister and “Vik” Jessenovik of the Lincoln Prairie police department are called away from their investigation of a mailbox bombing to the scene of an arson-suspected fire at an abandon house because a body has been found in the debris. The dead woman is Virginia McCroft, a gadfly to politicians in Lincoln Prairie who constantly wrote letters complaining about various projects. The autopsy shows she died from a gunshot. At first, a political motive is suspected, and the detectives are not wanting for suspects. However, the evidence fails to reveal a political motive for murder, and the suspects are subsequently reduced to two. Oona Amstadt, daughter of Andrew Thornton, a partner in a business with Virginia’s late father is a suspect. Thornton had been paying Virginia $500.00 a month because he had promised her father he would. Virginia asks for more, which angers Oona, and evidence places her at the scene of the crime on the night Virginia died.
Virginia supported her mother and the mother of her boyfriend, both of whom are in the same nursing home. The boyfriend becomes a suspect after the detectives surmise that maybe he became angry because Virginia, who was having financial problems, might have threaten to stop paying the bill for his mother.
The mailbox bombing brings in the bomb squad and the ATF. Vik and Marti’s supervisor, Lieutenant Dirkowitz, orders them to work with the other two teams because no one knows if the arsonist and the bomber are the same person or if he had anything to do with Virginia’s death.
One of the mothers is Eighty year old Opal Jhanke, whose vision and hearing are failing. She fears her son and thinks he doesn’t have enough money to take care of her and may put her in a nursing home. The son treats her like a child, forcing her to lie in bed for days without food. When Vik and Marti, searching for the son, discover her, she is in very bad shape with “displaced shoulder, cracked ribs, and dehydration.” However, they aren’t sure how the son fits into their case.
Geoffrey Bailey, the youngest, wastrel son of a middle class Black family, provides humor and is instrumental in setting up the exciting ending involving one of the mothers. When we meet him, Geoffrey is unemployed and living at home with his overindulgent mother. His two older bothers and his aunt convince the mother that her baby boy should move out and be on his own. Arrangements are made for him to move into an apartment owned by another mother and to work collecting rents for Deacon Evans.
To keep money in his pocket, Geoffrey chose the life of con man rather than work for a living “because it was...fun.” Geoffrey’s presence increases the tension of the plot when he crosses paths with the Opal’s son after he sells her a fake security alarm. The son vows to get the “colored” man who cheated his mother and stalks Geoffrey.
I prefer that the detectives in detective stories catch the villain. Sometimes, though, having a citizen confront the villain, especially with humor that provides relief from the shocking suffering of those who scream in silence, works. It works even better if the citizen is a mother.