The carved wooden Hope Chest had been stuck in a corner of the attic, forgotten for decades behind boxes of antique glassware and vintage baseball cards, neglected while the family focused on the present – school plays, golf tourneys, soccer games, Sunday dinners with the grandparents, and the occasional Antique Fair.
We were getting ready to sell the old place for Sheila’s Mom and rather than take all the boxes to her new (smaller) home, it was time to sort through it, sell the stuff that Amelia had no interest in anymore, and keep the treasures Sheila knew to be up there. Sheila’s parents had been antique dealers for a time and the vintage piece must have been acquired back then – a good twenty years before.
Sheila was right. The chest yielded a gold mine – items much older than the chest itself. A floor length, deep red dress from a bygone era, complete with covered buttons, and a tatted lace collar probably meant to be worn with the dress, lay at the top. Sheila lifted them carefully, the simple fabric in great shape considering its age, and set it aside, excited to find what lay beneath the tissue paper separating the outfit from the rest.
Her search yielded an old pocket watch, a pair of woman’s slippers, a simple bonnet, and a fabulous find: a journal from the late 1880s. The ink in the journal was faded, but still definitely readable.
We expected to find the details of someone’s daily life, telling about flower gardens and new babies and cousins coming to visit, but instead found the details of the life of somebody quite unexpected – a midwife who because of her special situation, happened to be a lady detective.
Meet Visiting Detective Rose Carroll, in a page from Rose Carroll’s Journal:
“4 Third Month 1889
As part of my calling as a midwife over the past year, I have somehow found myself drawn into investigating murder, of all things. And more than once, right here in our lovely town of Amesbury, situated on the Merrimack River in the northeast corner of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Now that I have had a week of respite from being called out to attend women’s labors in their homes, I find myself musing on exactly why these investigations should have come to pass.
After all, I am only a betrothed woman in my mid-twenties, an independent businesswoman, and auntie to five fine nieces and nephews. I am not a trained officer of the law, nor would I care to be. Imagine a member of the Religious Society of Friends being expected to carry a firearm, and worse, use it to inflict violence upon a threatening member of the citizenry!
And yet…when, as happened last summer, a young (and pregnant) member of Amesbury Friends Meeting was brutally shot under cover of the Independence Day fireworks, I became drawn into looking for answers. My midwifery mentor, the elderly Orpha Perkins, has said I have the gift of seeing, as had Friend John Greenleaf Whittier, who lives closer than a mile to my own abode. A former slave John had befriended was then arrested – falsely, I was certain – for the crime. How could I not do whatever was in my power to assist Detective Kevin Donovan in his search for the true criminal?
I am not certain what the “gift of seeing” means, but I have been told on more than one occasion that I am a good listener. As well I might be! Caring for a woman during her pregnancy, birth, and post-natal period requires as much counseling skill as it does medical expertise. Of course, I also can travel places Kevin never could – women’s bedchambers – and hear secrets revealed during their travails a man would not be able to eavesdrop on in the same manner.
In recent months Kevin has grown more accepting of my occasional assistance, even seeking me out for my opinions – well, until his new Captain put the kibosh on that a few months ago. Luckily I am also Kevin’s wife’s midwife, and Emmaline is delighted to serve as go-between for our messages.
Now, if only solving the problem of the obstacles to my beloved’s and my marriage were going as smoothly!
I do find it helps me to write to thee, dear journal, about these mysteries. I am able to better sort and arrange my thoughts, and thus better able to advise the dear detective. With that thought I shall rest, until I address thee about the next case. Because there will surely be one.”
Many thanks to Edith Maxwell for visiting the Kerrians through a page in Rose Carroll’s journal. What a delight to peek into the past this way. 🙂
You can read much more about Rose Carroll in Edith Maxwell’s Quaker Midwife series. In addition to containing great mysteries, the series is rich with historical details. Rose is undeniably, a marvelous new character.
Delivering the Truth, the first in the series, has been nominated for a Macavity Award, for the Sue Feder Award for Best Historical Novel! Winners are announced at the Bouchercon opening ceremonies in Toronto in October. See my review of Delivering the Truth here.
Agatha- and Macavity-nominated and national best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and award-winning short crime fiction. As Maddie Day, she writes the popular Country Store Mysteries and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. She is president of Sisters in Crime New England, lives north of Boston with her beau, two cats, and an organic garden, and blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com and elsewhere. Find information about all her work at https://edithmaxwell.com/.
Look for book #2, “Called to Justice,” in stores and online now.
It’s no secret that Sheila and I like to take a week here and there and see the sights around this great country of ours. This past Fall, we took the scenic route through the Great Smoky Mountains (part of the Appalachian range) to see the North Carolina cousins. I know, really long way around from the New York area, but the weather was great and it was a “why not?” kind of week.
The scenery was breathtaking and we pulled over lots of times to take pictures and soak it all in. When we finally left the Smokies, we stopped at a little spot called Minnie’s Diner in Jackson Creek, North Carolina. The parking lot was packed, but that’s usually a good sign, and we looked forward to mouth-watering, down-home cooking.
As we waited for the waitress to lead us to the only open booth, another couple came in behind us. She grabbed two menus from the counter for us, and spoke to the couple in typical small-town fashion. “Sheriff. Ava. Y’all doing okay?”
I glanced at the guy—long sleeve black shirt, rugby-type, tucked into black utility pants, a round patch on the shirt front reading Jackson County Sheriff. Below that, a bar with G. Ridge inscribed.
“Doing good,” he answered the waitress for both of them. “Looks like it’s standing room only today.”
“The wait shouldn’t be too long.”
The waitress turned to lead me and Sheila to the booth, but I stopped and turned toward the couple. The badge meant he was okay with me. “Want to join us?” They looked surprised, but agreed right away.
We all slid into the booth – Ridge and Ava sitting across from us – and introduced ourselves. Ava and Ridge lived in the next town.
I’ll let Ava Logan tell their story.
“So let me get this straight,” Charlie said, wagging a finger between Ridge and me. “You’re the sheriff, and you’re the publisher of the town newspaper?”
“Yes,” we both answered.
Charlie nodded and asked, “Does it ever cause a problem?”
“Not at all.” I must have answered too quickly because Ridge jerked his head around to glare at me. “Maybe. Sometimes,” I conceded.
While Ridge and Charlie talked shop, Sheila and I chatted about their trip through the mountains. Born and raised in western North Carolina, I love hearing others’ take on my part of the Appalachians. I smiled and declared that the scenic beauty is matched only by the people who called these hills and hollows home.
Although engaged in conversation with Sheila, I couldn’t help but overhear Charlie ask, “So how many residents are there in Jackson Creek?”
“4,327,” I answered. A hot blush crept up my cheeks as the Kerrians and Ridge looked at me like I always went around spouting random numbers. I mumbled a clarification, “Jackson Creek proper. I’m not sure about Jackson County.” Somewhere near the fifty-thousand range, but it was Ridge’s county. I thought he might want to answer.
The corner of Ridge’s mouth arched upward in a slight grin. He turned back to Charlie. “Fifty-three thousand. Jackson Creek is the county seat. I’m sure that’s a lot smaller than what you’re used to.”
Charlie answered with a smile, then turned to me. “Is there enough news in a town of four thousand to sustain a newspaper?”
“Oh, yeah. We do a lot of human interest features. And the occasional crime wave public service announcement.”
He and Sheila laughed. Ridge didn’t. He pressed his tongue to the inside of his cheek, a sign I knew all too well. We’d ridden this merry-go-round before. We rode it every day. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department wasn’t large enough to hire a media liaison so as Sheriff, Ridge filled that role. He was quick to feed me information when he needed to get the word out, and got especially tight-lipped when he didn’t want the press involved.
To be fair, Ridge was a good sheriff. And the fact that extracting information from him was like pulling the proverbial teeth, probably made him an even better one. It did make my job more difficult, though. And, sometimes caused me to do a little detecting in search of the facts behind the crimes.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said, spitting the words out like I was in a hurry to defend him, or explain my earlier words. “We had a rash of car break-ins a few weeks ago and I was happy to put a warning out to residents. And we always have ginseng poaching that sometimes gets out-of-hand. And of course, the…occasional murder.”
I stared at the trail of condensation snaking its way down my water glass, remembering every detail of that recent murder, the scene stamped into my brain forever. The victim had been a good friend. It was hard to forget, no matter how many times I’d tried, when you were the one to find the body. I’d never in my life been more glad to have a conversation interrupted by a waitress delivering food.
“So, Charlie,” I said, diving into a chicken wrap. “How’d you like the Smokies?”
“Wait!” He and Sheila chimed in together. Charlie laughed, “You can’t leave us hanging like that! What poaching? What murder? Tell me no lies!”
“The poaching was a big deal around here!” I launched into my tale, but left out a few details about the danger we were all in, knowing that Ridge was still not happy about how that had played out. Charlie shook his head. “That’s a case we’d never get in the city.” The waitress delivered some warm apple pie and Charlie nudged, “Tell us about the murder. Don’t leave anything out.”
I glanced at Ridge, not at all sure he wanted to talk about that case. Yup, he was scowling. I quickly changed the subject and we continued our lunch over more pleasant conversation, laughter, and a promise to keep in touch. I had no doubt we would.
Lynn Chandler Willis created the newspaper owner Ava Logan character, based in no small part on her own experience in the news biz. “Tell Me No Lies,” the first in the series, will debut in February, 2017, and will explain all about the ginseng poaching as well as the murder, and Ava Logan’s part in both. 🙂
Take a look at www.lynnchandlerwillis.com for updates about the series and Ms. Willis’ other work.
Smokies, Ginseng, Footprint – Google
Lynn Chandler Willis, Blue Ridge Highway – Patti Phillips
Remember Becki Green, the Visiting Detective that brought us the yummy brownies and then gave us the recipe? She and her sleuthing partner, Gina Monroe, took a few days off after solving their latest case and stopped in to say hello. We chatted about the success of the first book they co-wrote, “A Purse to Die For,” a really fun mystery, and the newly released second book, “A Killer Necklace,” even better than the first. Then we switched to another topic dear to Becki’s heart.
Becki is a vegetarian (no meat, fish or chicken in the diet and sometimes no milk or eggs) and is working toward becoming a vegan (no milk or eggs at all, not even as an ingredient in a dish). She has a great website that showcases her favorite vegetarian recipes, www.vegetariandetective.blogspot.com
Here’s Becki, making veggie food fun:
“I think eating veggie is mainstream these days. Everyone knows that it’s good for health, great for the environment and AWESOME for animals. My goal is to glam it up!”
Mediterranean Potato Salad
(No mayonnaise, no eggs, ultra-safe to take on picnics, and vibrant with fresh, summer-garden herbs.
24 baby red potatoes, the larger ones halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Spread the potatoes on a 9″ X 13″ pan.
Drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat the potatoes.
Roast for 30 min. (If it’s way too hot outside to want to turn on your oven, or you want to speed up the process, prick the potatoes with a fork and microwave them in a covered casserole dish for 10 min. on high, stirring at intervals, then drain and continue as below, except you probably don’t have to transfer the potatoes to a large bowl.)
Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.
Toss in the rest of the ingredients and chill.
Trust me. Sheila and I wouldn’t steer you wrong about food. This one is a keeper. 😀
Thanks to Cynthia St-Pierre for stopping by, the real-life good friend and writer who has been educating me about the values of going vegan. Don’t forget to check out her two mysteries, co-written with Melodie Campbell. You’ll find hi-fashion, a little vegetarian chat, some romance, and great mysteries to solve.
Member, Crime Writers of Canada and
International Thriller Writers
Photos and cover images: courtesy of Cynthia St-Pierre.