Saturday, July 05, 2008

If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him...

If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him... by Sharyn McCrumb is one of the Elizabeth MacPherson series and won the Agatha award in 1995. The only other book I've read by McCrumb is She Walks These Hills, which I liked but which was part of a different series.

The book is not a mystery according to the author, even though it won a major mystery award. She stated in this interview that
Actually the Elizabeth MacPherson novels are cultural satires, and not mysteries for the same reason that Pride & Prejudice is not a romance novel-- that is, unless you are reading with your brain in too low a gear. However, since I am utterly weary of explaining this to people in tones of decreasing civility, I’m afraid I’ve given it up. No more Elizabeth MacPherson novels, --- because of questions like this.

There's very little mention of this series at her web site, and those aren't readily available -I had to do a search of the site to find the few passing mentions of "Macpherson". At one point she describes this series this way:
Even the early "mystery" novels that I wrote reflect this sense of purpose, that a good book should have a message. The books featuring forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson have been described as "Jane Austen with an Attitude" for the way that they blend social issues into the plots. In each of the early novels, the murder is committed by someone who is trying to protect an assumed cultural identity-- not for greed, or revenge, or any of the usual motives. Cultural identity, I learned from my dual-culture childhood, is optional. The point of those novels is not to reveal "whodunit," but to satirize a pretentious segment of society: in Highland Laddie Gone, for example, the Scottish Wannabes at the Highland Games are lampooned. The last novel in that series [note: there is a later one published in 2000], If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him is a synchronically structured meditation on the dysfunctional nature of contemporary relationships: i.e. there is a war going on between men and women these days, and in this book, Elizabeth MacPherson becomes the war correspondent. These satirical novels reflect the culture of my mother’s South: the mannered society where appearances and social position matter.
Sad that the fun of the books is lost because of her felt need for everybody to recognize, understand and agree with her vision. I wish authors would let books stand on their own and not feel the need to control how readers enjoy and interpret them. It reminds me of Margaret Atwood's insistence that her books are not science fiction because, “Science fiction is rockets, chemicals and talking squids in outer space.” It limits the genre to fit her own prejudice. But, then, I am just a reader; what do I know. Or maybe I have my "brain in too low a gear".

from the back of the book:
When forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson becomes the official P.I. for her brother Bill's fledgling Virginia law firm, she quickly takes on two complex cases. Eleanor Royden, a perfect lawyer's wife for twenty years, has shot her ex-husband and his wife in cold blood. And Donna Jean Morgan is implicated in the death of her Bible-thumping bigamist husband.

Bill's feminist firebrand partner, A. P. Hill, does her damnedest for Eleanor, an abused wife in denial, and Bill gallantly defends Donna Jean. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's forensic expertise, including her special knowledge of poisons, gives her the most challenging case of her career....

The book is a wonderful balance of the different characters and various plots. I'll pick up others by her as I come across them.

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