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Two Mysteries About Early 20th Century Labor Unrest

I have recently finished two somewhat similar mysteries set in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

All Men Fear Me,” by Donis Casey is the first of these mysteries. This book is the eighth in the “An Alafair Tucker Mystery” series.  The book is set just after the US joined World War I and the town of Boynton, Oklahoma is at heightened alert for German traitors and union activists fomenting unrest.  In the midst of all this unrest the Tucker family is trying to stay together with the older sons all contemplating joining the Army and heading for France, and a son-in-law afraid for his life because of his German heritage.  All of the foreign-born people in town are keeping a low profile because of prejudice and suspicion that has become very prevalent among the residents.  Alfair’s brother, a union organizer, comes to town ostensibly for a visit, but is suspected of really being in town to stir up trouble at a local factory. There is worry that trouble will brew at the “Liberty Sing” following the drawing of names for the draft lottery.  A man, called Old Nick, is another recent addition to the town, a very mysterious person no one knows.

The author, Donis Casey, has done an excellent job of researching the era and making the reader feel as if they are back in state-side life during the 1st World War with FDA-mandated austerity measures, suspicion about neighbors who may not originally have been from the area, formation of a chapter of the Knights of Liberty to offer vigilante justice to anyone who appears to be unpatriotic or unwilling to serve.

All Men Fear Me” is a nostalgic novel that will take the reader back to the days at the beginning of America’s involvement in the Great War.

Jack H. Bailey’s “Orchard” attempts to mix fact with fiction.  Bailey uses historic mine unrest in and around Coeur d’Alene in the late 1890s and early 1900’s and the efforts of mine owners to break the control of the Western Federation of Miners and weaves a fictional story around the shadowy life of a real union contract killer named Harry Orchard, a man who was finally sent to prison for the killing of the former governor of Idaho in 1906, Governor Steuenenber.  Orchard’s arch-rival and eventual captor is Pinkerton Agent, Charlie Siringo.  The details of exactly what activities Orchard and Siringo engage in and the dialog as they interact with their union and law enforcement associates is made up, but gives a fascenating picture of what may have taken place.  It is clear that there were many wrongs to redress on both sides.

Bailey succeeds in making both Orchard and Siringo more than just two-dimensional characters.  We have a sense of what makes both men tick.  There are times when we are ready to root for Orchard as a champion of poor minors and their families, and times when we want Siringo to capture the killer in order to stop the bombings and contract killings.

All Men Fear Me” and “Orchard” are both highly recommended.

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Hell with the Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey

Hell with the Lid Blown Off” is the 7th in the Alafair Tucker Mysteries by Donis Casey.  Alafair Tucker is an Oklahoma farm wife and mother in the early years of the 20th century.  In this installment the Tucker family and their neighbors experience a huge, destructive twister.  Not all of their neighbors make it through including a conniving, disliked young man.  The coroner discovers that that victim, Jubal Beldon, was killed before the twister and was then repositioned to make it look like he died in the storm. Alafair helps the sheriff and his deputy to figure out who had something to gain from Beldon’s demise and who had the means and ability to kill the man.

The book is written from the point of view of Trenton Calder, the deputy sheriff and secret admirer of  Ruth Tucker, the 17 year old daughter of Alafair and a talented pianist.  Ruth generally stays in town with her piano teacher, Beckie MacKenzie.

The book is full of great character descriptions and amusing scenarios between characters that bring back the nostalgia of the early 20th century in rural America.  The nostalgia is tempered by the menacing storm and the strange and seemingly random destruction it wreaks. Those charming vignettes about ordinary life in Boynton, OK are also punctuated by the investigation into the death of Jubal Beldon and discovery about what a despicable rat he was.  In the end it is impossible to really blame anyone for his death.  Good riddance!

Hell with the Lid Blown Off” is a charming and nostalgic stroll through the lives of families in small town America in 1916 and the destructive forces, both natural and human, that can tear these lives apart in an instant.

Recommended reading for all lovers of early Americana and Historical mysteries.

Liz Nichols

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