M.T. Jefferson – The Victory Dance Murder, In the Mood for Murder; Decorated for Murder.
M.T. Jefferson created a series, set in the small town of Robinsville, PA, that in three books spans the beginning of WWII through to the immediate post-war period. The main character is a bright, articulate, independent young woman named Kate Fallon, whose fiancé has left for, first, basic, then, assignment overseas. Starting with The Victory Dance Murder, the novels do a beautiful job of depicting life in a small town during the war years: the soda shops, diners, and drugstore lunch counters where people of all ages eat and socialize; the excitement of skating parties, going to a Friday night movie or a Saturday matinee, or hoofing it at a Vicorty Dance; men and women adapting to the new roles of women in society: secretaries becoming welders, mothers wrestling with rationing, single business women making a place for themselves in the community; the prickly though not unfriendly relations amongst the police, the newspaper editor, and the coroner; and even the fear of getting a dreaded telegram that “regrets to inform . . . .” In the first novel, The Victory Dance Murder, we get a murder early on, then the recreation of life in war-time 1940s seems to swell over it – such a pleasure to read that you almost forget there’s a murder that needs solving here! The heroine is sharp but not sharp enough to avoid falling into the murderer’s hands. Then she’s rescued and the conflict resolved before you can say, “Hey! What the hey!” The second novel, In the Mood for Murder, definitely succeeds in bringing mood and mystery into balance. And Kate plays a more active and consistent role once she becomes the focus of vicious poisoned-pen letters haunting her friends, à la Le Corbeau, that culminate in multiple murders. Jefferson also does a nice job of laying down clues that will point you to the culprit(s) if you are paying attention. The mood is much darker. Decorated for Murder is even more squarely in the noir camp, with much grittier characterizations, a clearer look at the seamy underside of small town denizens, and a recurring flashback format from present day to the 1940s. Kate Fallon is much less in the foreground this time out, though she does solve the murder with a simple question to which the police, the crusty news editor, and an Alexander Woolcott-type are inexplicably oblivious. Intriguingly, Kate is referred to by her maiden name by the elderly but razor sharp editor in the present. Does that mean her fiance Mike never made it back home from the war; she decided not to marry; or just that MacFarland, like a lot of us, keep referring to people with the names by which we first knew them? All in all, an enjoyable series to read. I’m sorry that there aren’t more.