A murder shakes up a small Southern town in the 1950s in this debut novel.
Miss Titta—in her 60s, widowed, and caring for her 7-year-old granddaughter, Jean—is a pillar of Lena, a farming community in the South. A “graceful woman, of medium height and caramel skin,” she is a healer, midwife, and dispenser of sage advice. Even the local doctors often refer patients to her for herbal remedies and common-sense treatments. It’s a position that has her involved in the lives of many of Lena’s residents. It is through her that readers closely follow the major and minor personal dramas of small-town life. There are the Harrises: Mike has been seriously injured at work, and his wife, Angel, struggles to support the family while their 13-year-old daughter, Chloe, begins to assist Miss Titta in nursing her father back to health. Then there is Jasper and his country store. His son, Yak, has finally convinced his father to modernize, but in the meantime the aisles remain cluttered, Jasper grumbles, and everyone congregates there at one time or another to shop and exchange gossip. And Miss Yvonne, Miss Titta’s friend, is disturbed because her long-missing son has decided to return home to restart his life. Most people in Lena don’t even know she has a son. Hoye writes early on: “The country town’s daily life was familiar, but among the familiar came the unexpected.” For two-thirds of the amiable narrative, readers are lulled gently into the leisurely rhythm of that “familiar” state, with all of its crises and eventual resolutions. The sudden intrusion of a murder effectively fractures that complacency. Although the characters are only lightly developed, it is enjoyable to be around most of them. And Miss Titta makes a fine, plucky amateur detective. But the author’s prose is sometimes lax. She has a penchant for alternating between past and present tenses within a vignette for no apparent reason. And several instances of erroneous word usage go beyond the realm of typos (“People were quick to banish their weapon at each other”).
Despite some linguistic flaws, this nostalgic mystery offers a surprising homespun charm.