Monday, July 7, 2014
HELL WITH THE LID BLOWN OFF by Donis Casey
Donis Casey's Hell With The Lid Blown Off has two sections—Before and After.
Before, things are peaceful. In the summer of 1916, the Shaw Tucker family gathers for a meal. When the Tuckers gather, that is a large gathering. Shaw and Alifair have ten children (if I remember correctly). Several are married. But they come together (most of them, at least) for a spontaneous evening meal.
Things are going well. The Tuckers expect two more grandchildren. Seventeen-year-old Ruth Tucker has a new beau. (The stories often feature one of the children courting and finally—maybe a book or two down the road--marrying.)
Ruth now gives piano lessons in Miss Beckie's house. Miss Beckie is a wealthy woman of Scottish descent who especially loves her grandson.
But the Boynton, Oklahoma, worm in the apple, Jubal Beldon, stalks Ruth. He threatens to start terrible rumors about her as he has about many people in the county. He is universally-hated. Paradoxically, he treats his animals with care and kindness.
Then the tornado hits.
This is the best-told section of the story. It reminded me of a time back in the 1980s. We often went to Silver Dollar City about one hundred miles from where we lived. One of their small venues featured a hammered dulcimer player named John Corbin.
One afternoon, I returned to that venue at least three times to hear him sing a powerful song about a tornado.
Donis Casey's description of the tornado reminded me of that song.
The Before section makes up almost sixty percent of the book.
And then there's After.
One of the Tuckers finds the body of Jubal Beldon. Someone murdered him at least a day before the tornado hit. His body rested in the high grass where no one saw it. Then the tornado grabbed it up and blew it from who-knows-where.
Alafair Tucker, Ruth Tucker, Alafair's brother-in-law Scott, Scott's deputy and Ruth's beau Trenton Calder, and the others work to solve the crime.
It is hard to overstate how much I like the Alafair Tucker books. We lived in Oklahoma for three years. Donis Casey knows the history and the people of Oklahoma. She tells an honest story about a wonderful family.
Hell With The Lid Blown Off reflects the blessings and hatreds of Boynton, Oklahoma. At seventeen years old, Ruth has to be told what a sodomite is. But she knows, as do the rest of them, how many people hate out-of-their-place African Americans and gays (two terms they wouldn't have known.) You can be imprisoned or strung up for being gay.
I read this book over two days, fast for me. If you enjoy well-told, historically-accurate mysteries, you should like Hell With The Lid Blown Off.
QUOTATIONS FROM HELL WITH THE LID BLOWN OFF--
Don't your understand? If folks think a thing, it is so. It doesn't matter if it's true our not. Your reputation is ruined.
...in a tight little town like Boynton, where everybody knew everybody else, rumor was as damaging as fact.
She didn't take notice of my collapse. She never doubted that I'd see the rightness of her position.
--Trenton Calder describing his girlfriend Ruth Tucker's response to his caving-in, changing his mind and agreeing with her.
Everybody lost something or somebody, but everybody helped their neighbors, too.