Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
With its picturesque setting, lively historical time period, and personality-filled cast of characters this cozy mystery is just as fun as it sounds. A Lack of Temperance is the first book in a series featuring botany-loving Hattie Davis who works as traveling secretary--which is a superb occupation to give a character for at least three reasons. Going from place to place to earn her own living means Hattie is forced to be more independent and resourceful than many of her 1892 peers, it’s a job that seems to straddle class lines, much like a governess in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, creating lots of plot-worthy frisson, and her peripatetic lifestyle allows every book in the series to be set in a different charming and fascinating locale, though fortunately many of the wonderful characters from this first entry manage to stick around in later volumes.
As A Lack of Temperance opens Hattie has been traveling by train and is just arriving in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a mountainous resort town with lush vegetation, numerous health-promoting natural springs, and steep winding streets and walkways all so temptingly described that I am now determined to visit. Hattie hasn’t had a chance to meet her employer Mrs. Trevelyan yet and is just settling into her hotel when a cry of “Fire!” draws her out into the street. But it’s not the hotel that’s ablaze. A group of hatchet wielding women in town for a temperance meeting are smashing whiskey barrels pulled from a saloon that’s now burning and “Mother Trevelyan”, Hattie’s new boss, is front and center leading the destruction.
When Mrs.Trevelyan is found dead the next morning Hattie pulls out her typewriter and uses her personal secretary skills of organization, summation, and careful attention to detail in an attempt to solve the murder, which takes her all over town and involves her with a wide variety of locals and visitors, including a handsome doctor. To mull things over and attempt to relax in her downtime Hattie roams the surrounding verdant hills adding specimens to her plant collection, a hobby that helps her discover more clues but also puts her danger.
Characters have complex sometimes unexpected backstories, only gradually discovered by Hattie and the reader, that give the story a nice heft. As far as the mystery goes, I didn’t guess the killer so I didn’t find it predictable. Hattie’s own story hasn’t been completely revealed by the end of the book, there’s more to learn about both her history and Sir Arthur Windom-Greene, a man who stays off stage in this episode but who acts as a sort of sponsor helping Hattie secure employment. A Lack of Temperance was a vacation-like treat to read and I’m looking forward to starting the next book in the series.