by Sandra Murphy
& Betty Jean Craig
Today we have a review & giveaway of Downstream, a mystery that seemed perfect for the week of Earth Day. We also have a guest post from Betty about how she came to write this book. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of Downstream and a link to purchase it.
Why I Write About Environmental Issues
By Betty Jean Craige
At the age of twenty I could not have imagined that in retirement I would write about a five-legged frog, a dog with un-descended testicles whose mother birthed him at the age of sixteen, two lovely post-menopausal ladies who got pregnant in their fifties, and twenty-four healthy centenarian gentlemen with swelling breasts. But neither could I have imagined back then that we’d be polluting our rivers, lakes, and streams with estrogen, anti-depressants, and tranquilizers. Who takes estrogen?
We all take estrogen! The prescription drug you take for birth control I get free of charge when I drink our local water into which (pardon me for being explicit) you have excreted traces of it. The prescription drug I take for hot flashes you get free of charge when you drink our local water into which I have excreted traces. Thus we are all ingesting the same drugs, at least to some extent, and “we” includes our non-human neighbors: the frogs, fish, squirrels, dogs, and birds who share our space on earth, our water supply and our food. They get our drugs too.
The estrogen that makes some lives better makes other lives worse. The pharmaceuticals we take to alleviate our ailments have side effects. We can read about them on the little sheet of paper with tiny, almost illegible print that comes in the package with the bottle of pills, side effects such as “headaches, nausea, vaginal discharge, fluid retention, weight gain, and breast tenderness.” The list includes only the side effects for the individual taking the drug, not the drug’s side effects for the environment into which the individual excretes the drug, not the drug’s effects on the frogs, fish, squirrels, birds and not the drug’s effects on other humans.
I am an animal lover. I think about frogs, fish, squirrels, dogs, and birds–especially parrots–a lot. In 2010, after four decades of scholarly writing as a professor at the University of Georgia, I wrote a book titled Conversations with Cosmo about my highly intelligent and very talkative African Grey Parrot. Then for two years I wrote a somewhat humorous Sunday column in our local newspaper titled, “Cosmo Talks” about animal cognition, communication and behavior. I realized that wanted to entertain readers with my writing–that is, entertain readers and stimulate their thinking about issues I found important.
So, having enjoyed whodunits since childhood and having become concerned about pharmaceutical pollution, I decided to write a murder mystery and set it in beautiful north Georgia. I invented a town called Witherston. I invented the town’s eccentric residents. I invented a hormone-based longevity drug called Senextra. I invented a billionaire geezer who wished to build a Senextra factory upstream. I invented Senextra’s side effects and I invented a mystery with a murder, or two. I discovered that I really, really liked inventing!
I titled my novel We All Live Downstream. My publisher, Black Opal Books, suggested shortening the title to Downstream. Good idea, I said.
The book’s cover has a picture of a five-legged frog floating in a wooded stream. Above the frog are the words Downstream: A Witherston Murder Mystery. So Downstream is the first in a series of murder mysteries set in Witherston. The second, to be called Fairfield’s Auction, will be out next fall. The third–well, I’m still working on it. No title yet.
As I write, my little American Eskimo Dog, Mary, lies at my feet and my parrot Cosmo stands on her perch behind me whistling “On Top of Old Smoky.” She just told a joke she invented: “Telephone for bird!”
Downstream by Betty Jean Craige
Review by Sandra Murphy
The first rule of cozy mysteries is Never Kill the Dog. The second rule is Don’t Hurt the Kid. In Downstream, Harry, a year old Chow puppy, bites the killer at the time of his owner’s murder. Understandably, the murderer wonders if the pup will remember and how he’ll react when they meet again. This puts the pup in jeopardy which makes for great suspense. Is the dog bite a clue? Who will find out about it? Will Harry remember and lend a paw in the killer’s capture?
But no, no one finds out about the bite. The killer could easily avoid Harry. Instead, the pup is poisoned and dies in the arms of the fourteen year-old twins who adopted him. This wasn’t necessary to the plot and, at least for me, stops the story cold. Speaking of the twins, the killer also kidnaps one of them and leaves him where either he won’t be found or he’ll drown before rescuers can find him but not to worry, that part turns out okay.
On to the review:
Mev, police detective in Witherston, wife of Paco and mother to Jorge and Jaime, twin fourteen year-old boys, is on duty for crowd control when Frances Hearty Withers celebrates his 100th birthday with a public party. He also has an announcement to make. He’s made out his will, although he has no intention of dying any time soon and plans to leave one billion dollars to the residents–that is about $250,000 for each of the 4,000 people, children included. He’ll leave another billion to the town itself. His property will go to the Biosenecta Pharmaceutical company so they can build a Senextra plant. Of course, it will mean clear cutting over thirty acres of old growth trees but hey, that’s progress! Senextra is a drug that stops the aging process. There’s a study going on and the men in it range in age from ninety to over a hundred. No one looks a day over eighty. Withers has been using it for five years already.
Members of Keep Nature Natural protest the announcement because they feel the planet is already overpopulated. If no one dies, what will happen then? Withers is outraged that his generous offer isn’t welcomed by everyone and announces he’ll change his will, not leave a dime to people or the town and will still cut down every tree on his land. Mev correctly predicts he’s just given someone a motive for murder. Sure enough, before he can change his will, his housekeeper finds him dead on the floor, with puppy Harry by his side.
There are a lot of weird things going on. Women who are past child-bearing are pregnant, but their daughters who want kids have to undergo in vitro. There’s an odd side effect to Senextra but nobody’s talking about it. In the creek where the kids play, minnows, mussels and fish have disappeared but a five-legged frog is found. The boys and their best friend are right in the middle of everything, almost more than Mev.
Mev has health concerns of her own and that just complicates matters further. There’s a shooting, another death, more clues and more confusion. There are just too many suspects, e.g. the housekeeper who was treated badly, the protesters who save the forest, anyone who wanted to make sure the will wasn’t changed…
The message is clear. Everyone and everything is connected and dependent on the other, from trees and animals to people and plants. Change one thing and a domino effect changes the rest. There’s a lot of history mixed in about the town, the Cherokee tribes that lived there first and how people feel superior by making others feel inferior.
It’s a great Earth Day message.
To enter to win a copy of Downstream simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Downstream,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 27, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.
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