Saturday, October 1, 2011

Perhaps She'll Die by M. K. Preston

Back in October 2008, I attended my first Bouchercon here in Baltimore. One of the panels I listened to discussed selecting locations for mysteries. Someone in the audience asked the panelists if there was a location that should not be used in a story. Author Carolyn Wall answered “Oklahoma” without even a pause. I asked her later why she said that and she responded that her editor told her nothing happens there. My response isn’t appropriate for this blog. I know plenty of authors who would disagree with Wall. I certainly do. Jean Hager obviously does. I’m glad M. K. Preston does, too.

I read her second mystery Song of the Bones several years ago and enjoyed it, so naturally I should read the first, Perhaps She’ll Die. The book’s premise is rather cliché – I’m back in town to find out who killed my pa – but it has a different perspective that separates it from any number of westerns. Chantalene Morell has returned to Tetumka, Oklahoma where her father was lynched for raping a mentally handicapped girl, a crime he didn’t commit and was acquitted of. The night of his hanging, her mother dropped her off at a neighbor’s house and vanished.

That was twelve years ago. Although only absent for about two years, Chantalene’s reappearance sends shock waves through the tiny community, especially since she makes it clear why she’s back. The local butcher whom she suspects as being one of the murderers is killed. Chantalene is suspected in his death but she receives help and support from Drew Sander, another Tetumka native who has also returned home after an extended absence. A few years older than Chantalene, Drew had already left town when her father was murdered.

Despite her stubbornness and fierce independence, she is glad for his help. Together they investigate a twelve-year old murder, ignoring repeated warnings to let the matter drop. Or else.

Preston’s story is rich in Oklahoma culture, lifestyle and idiosyncrasies. Growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, I recognized several characters in the stories from the bullies to the gossipy postmistress. It is not necessarily a flattering view of Oklahoma in some aspects, since all communities have their bad seeds but even the non-natives can find comfort in its hominess, good neighbors and the wonderful smell of thunderstorms.

According to Preston’s website, Perhaps She’ll Die and Song of the Bones are the only two Chantalene mysteries she’s written. I certainly hope they will be more. The misfits of Tetumka, Oklahoma are worthy of a third.

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