In Coakley’s debut novel, a young woman from Chattanooga, Tennessee, settles in upstate New York in 1976, finds romance, and stumbles upon a murder.
Thirty-two-year-old rural-manpower representative Becca Collins uses her “Southern sweetness” to secure factory jobs for migrants and seasonal farmworkers. She’s attracted to her supervisor, Brick Wilson, but his married status makes him off-limits. Then she discovers widower Jack Hightower, a “funny and sexy” high school football coach with whom she wouldn’t mind scoring. The two meet through Danny Washington, a student whom Jack coaches. Becca helped Danny’s mom, Rose, get an apartment for herself, her kids, and her occasional boyfriend, Otis Brown. She also helped her land a factory job, working for the charismatic Golden Smith. When Golden asks Becca for an urgent, late-hour meeting concerning Rose, the Tennessee transplant wonders what exactly he wants to discuss. But then Golden is beaten to death, not long before Becca arrives at the factory; she becomes a suspect, even as the killer targets her as his next victim. Juggling her work and her interviews with police and reporters, Becca struggles to find time to spend with Jack, who’s a magnet for single women. The 1970s time frame in this somewhat easy-to-solve mystery is effectively signaled by references to Brick’s stylish denim suit and Becca’s sporty Dodge Colt automobile. But it also includes timely discussions of changing black/white race relations and of workplace discrimination against women; for example, Becca and the other “girls” are seen as “window dressing” in the mostly male office. Coakley is a former rural-manpower representative for the New York State Department of Labor, and the plight of migrant workers, in particular, looms large in her novel. But there’s also a romance that’s as pleasant as a Southern smile, as well as humor, some of it unexpected, such as when Becca attends a post-funeral gathering at the Smith home and is “embarrassed at her excitement over the thought of partaking” in platters of food. Some creepy passages from the killer’s perspective perk up the otherwise casual pace, but the descriptions of Becca’s wardrobe choices are overdone.
A straightforward ’70s mystery, helped by a sweet love story.