A Lack of Temperance
Hattie Davish Mystery, Book #1
By Anna Loan-Wilsey
Author’s website: annaloanwilsey.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
From Anna Loan-Wilsey comes the first installment of a new historical mystery series featuring Hattie Davish, a traveling secretary who arrives in a small Ozark town only to discover her new employer has disappeared. . .
On the eve of the heated presidential election of 1892, Miss Hattie Davish arrives in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a scenic resort town where those without the scent of whiskey on their breath have the plight of temperance on their tongues. Summoned for her services as a private secretary, Hattie is looking forward to exploring the hills, indulging her penchant for botany–and getting to know the town’s handsome doctor. But it’s hard to get her job done with her employer nowhere to be found. . .
An army of unassuming women wielding hatchets have descended on the quiet Ozark village, destroying every saloon in their path–and leaving more than a few enemies in their wake. So when their beloved leader, Mother Trevelyan, is murdered, it’s easy to point fingers. Now that she’s working for a dead woman, Hattie turns to her trusty typewriter to get to the truth. And as she follows a trail of cryptic death threats, she’ll come face to face with a killer far more dangerous than the Demon Rum. . .
“A wonderful read from a welcome addition to the genre. This one shouldn’t be missed–it has it all!” –Emily Brightwell
This novel exceeded my expectations both in historical content and in the mysteries and solution. It is the first in a series of five novels (so far), falling into a time of our nation that I enjoy learning more about through excellent novels such as this. The temperance movement was alive and well in 1892, when a noted presidential election was occurring and a vote for temperance in the county where the women’s league was having their annual meeting.
The setting of Eureka Springs, Arkansas sounds beautiful, nestled in the Ozarks where many tourists come for the healing springs in the area. Hattie Davish, a traveling secretary, has a week-long assignment there, arriving with suitcase and typewriter in hand. She can’t meet with the woman she will work for, none other than “Mother” Edwina Trevelyan, president of the temperance coalition. Sunday evening she was witness to the temperance ladies descend on a saloon with hatchets. The petite lady who she learns later is Mrs. Trevelyan actually sets fire to the saloon which the owner hastily puts out. As Hattie goes through Mrs. T’s incoming correspondence, she finds a threatening note from someone signing only their initials.
Hattie never does get to meet Mrs. Trevelyan. Mrs. T’s room maid had seen her the morning after the incident with the hatchets, as did the vice president of AWTC, Cordelia Anglewood. Cordelia actually had hollered very unladylike epithets through the president’s door. Josephine Piers had acted as secretary to “Mother” since the day the last secretary left without notice and tried to send Hattie on her way as she really wanted to serve the president. As a very responsible person, Hattie wouldn’t leave, especially having already been paid. When Hattie finally did see Mrs. Trevelyan, she was past speaking, as she was very dead.
The characters include an interesting group of ladies from various avenues of life; many were well-to-do. Cordelia thought nothing of being a nasty snob to those deemed beneath her, including Hattie. Sisters Lucy and Lizzie were interesting, reminding me a bit of the elderly sisters on The Waltons. Many of the women believed in their Godly calling to temperance work; while some agreed with the violence at the saloon, others did not. Most of the men were very much against the temperance ladies and against women having a say in anything. Hattie is the only person we really get to know. I like Hattie for many reasons, including dedication to her job, loyalty, and single-minded purpose. Had she not allowed herself limited moments of relaxation late in the novel when a potential suitor took her completely away from the hotel and meetings, I would not have thought her very realistic. Also, she tends to not think about the dangers when she is on a mission to find someone or something, as do many of us.
Several ladies have closely-guarded secrets. Mrs. Trevelyan and one gentleman have secrets they thought would be taken to the grave, but there was at least one person to see who they really were. The temperance coalition believed temperance to be moderation in all things, not restricted to a non-drinking lifestyle, ironic when considering actions of key people in the coalition. One of the best things to be said for a mystery author is that he/ she has plotted it so well that the reader finds it difficult to know who the real bad guy/ gal might be. That is the case with Ms. Loan-Wilsey and this novel; there were three people I suspected, and each one was slowly proven innocent of at least the murder. In a stunning conclusion, the guilty party was quite a surprise! The end was very satisfying and paves the way for the next in series, which I hope to read soon. I highly recommend A Lack of Temperance to cozy mystery lovers who enjoy well-written late 19th century novels with strong female leads, confounding crimes and a hint of romance.