I may not be a fan of novels, nonetheless, I quite enjoyed this Always Something Sings mystery. The novel was written by a man and features a woman sheriff–and a murder that seemed to be solved–but wasn’t.
The book’s author, Roger Lynn Howell, is a geologist and environmental engineer and he sets every scene very carefully. You hear the birds, smell the air, and enjoy the sun, flowers, trees and wild growth, but the narrative does not get lost.
In the story, Ada Reed is only a temporary sheriff. Her husband had been the sheriff, but he has been recalled to the Army. Yellowpine, Utah is a town with not much for a sheriff to do, so the sheriff’s wife seemed the right temporary choice for the “couple of weeks” her husband would be away.
Of course, her husband’s absence stretched into months and while he was gone, Ada was called when a real murder takes place in her town. And not long afterward, a local man admits to the murder. The townspeople think the crime had been solved, but Ada wants to wrap up all the loose ends.
Wanting to do a job her husband would be proud of, Ada starts looking into the confession and into the life of the girl who was murdered. As her research continues, she becomes convinced that the killer was not the man who confessed. We follow Ada around town and into the surrounding areas including local mines. She is relentless and occasionally the subject of injury and murder herself.
I enjoyed Ada’s journey which has a number of twists and turns.
I also wondered why a male author would choose to write about a female sheriff. So I wrote an email to the author, and here is his answer:
“The story is set in 1951, a time when America was awakening to modern times, but still sat on the edge. We were safe and prosperous after WWII but paranoid of things we saw in the future: atomic bombs and flying saucers. And we were still a very prejudiced people although we were beginning to recognize those prejudices. I wanted this detective series to reflect that awakening, and the best way to do it would be to confront a huge prejudice: a woman in a ‘man’s’ job.”
Note: Before Howell gave me his answer I had wondered if a female “lead” would appeal to more readers. I then went to the Internet to find out who reads more books, men or woman. Here’s a possible answer: “Among avid readers surveyed by the AP, the typical woman read nine books in a year with only five for men. Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography.” Yes, both women and men read novels.
Personally, I have recently been reading more than nine books a year and many of them are biographies. However, among the novels I have read, many of the main characters have been women.
Next question: Today, are there more women novelists women than men novelists? “By analyzing data from Goodreads, Bookstat, Amazon, and the National Library of Congress, Joel Waldfogel, an American economist, found that women’s share of published titles increased from around 20% in the 1970s to over 50% by 2020. This likely displaced some male authors, but the change wasn’t just that male authors were replaced by female authors. Rather, the whole industry grew, and by 2021, female-authored books sold more copies on average than those written by men.”
Always Something Sings is published by Coffeetown Press and is available as an e-book and paperback.