Please welcome Donis Casey, who will tell us about her newest Alafair Tucker Mystery
The Wrong Hill to Die On: An Alafair Tucker Mystery.
Alafair Tucker is a woman in her early forties who lives with her husband, Shaw, and their ten lively children on a prosperous horse farm in eastern Oklahoma during the booming mid-1910s. How, you may ask, does a woman like Alafair go about solving mysteries? After all, this is one busy woman, and the truth is that she is not at all interested in getting involved with local episodes of violence and mayhem. But when you have ten children ranging in age from early twenties to infancy, somebody is always getting himself or herself in trouble, and needs her mother to get her out of it. Alafair may not always know exactly what to do, but you can bet she’ll do something. She’s not one to stand by and let anything threaten a child of hers.
When you begin writing the sixth crime novel featuring the same protagonist, you need to shake things up a bit if you want to keep the series fresh and interesting. After all, how many people can you kill in one small town in Oklahoma before people start to wonder if the residents are crazy for living there at all?*
Nineteen-fifteen had been a tough year for the Tuckers, and 1916 hadn’t started out all that well, either. It had been a tough winter, and Alafair and her husband Shaw deserved a vacation. So I decided to send them on a trip to sunny Arizona to visit Alafair’s witty, brilliant, and beautiful sister, Elizabeth.
But once I started writing, it didn’t take me long to realize that this trip wasn’t going to work out as planned. In the first place, Alafair didn’t want to go. A daughter was getting married soon, another having a birthday, a son going back to college. After the awful events the family endured in the previous novel, Crying Blood, Alafair simply wanted life to get back to normal. How, then, was I going to persuade her to go to Arizona?
During my research I discovered that the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916 had been the rainiest months in decades, accompanied by severe flooding all over the Western United States. Therefore, a lot of flu and bronchitis was going around that winter. Handily for my story line, at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Arizona was known as a place for people with lung problems to come and be cured by the desert air.
Alafair may not want to go to Arizona, but her daughter Blanche, only ten years old, cannot shake the bronchitis that has plagued the family all winter. Her best chance to get well is to spend some time in a dry climate. So Alafair and Shaw bundle their sick child onto the train and make a nightmare trip–a thousand miles of diversions and detours due to damaged and washed-out track–from Oklahoma to Arizona.
Yet as soon as they arrive on a bright, seventy-two degree March day, Blanche begins to improve. Alafair is overjoyed to see her sister Elizabeth again, and for added excitement, a Hollywood motion picture company is shooting a movie right on the streets of Tempe!
But no matter how wonderful it seems at first, all is not well in sunny Arizona. Elizabeth’s marriage is falling apart, tensions are high between the Anglo and Latino communities following Pancho Villa’s murderous raid on Columbus, New Mexico, and Alafair suspects her sister is involved in an illegal operation to smuggle refugees from the Mexican Revolution out of Sonora and into the U.S.
On top of it all, here lies Bernie Arruda, on his back in a ditch, eyes wide open, seeing nothing on this side of the veil. Just the night before, he had been singing Mexican love songs at the party in Elizabeth’s back yard, his black eyes flashing as he winked at the ladies. He had been such a charmer! Or had he? He may have romanced half the married women in town. Or he could have been a spy for Pancho Villa. Or was he a defector from Villa’s army? Was it he who hid the money that rained down on the spectators when the movie company blew an abandoned building sky high? As Alafair is about to discover, there are a lot of people who have reason to want Bernie dead.
Alafair’s trip to Arizona didn’t turn out to be the restful get-away I had envisioned for her. But it was quite an adventure.