Sunday, April 24, 2016

Betty Jean Craige Pens Second in Witherston Murder Mysteries--Fairfield's Auction

Elizabeth "Betsy" Brown Stephens
(1903), a Cherokee Indian who walked
 the Trail of Tears in 1838

On December 14, 1830, Harold Francis Withers, son of Hearty Withers and founder of Witherston, was born. Harry was to inherit the fortune his father had made in 1829 panning for gold as well as the forty acres of Cherokee land his father was to win in 1832 in the Georgia Land Lottery. He was also to inherit a lifelong hatred of the Cherokee people after witnessing his father's death at the hands of a Cherokee wielding a knife. 
Harry's mother wrote in her diary on June 6, 1838, a week after the killing:"We have to get rid of the Indians. We will never be safe as long as there is a single Indian left in Georgia. Fortunately, little Harry and I have our property. The Indian took my husband's life, but he didn't take our land or our gold."
Penance Withers and Georgia's other White settlers got their wish. In the winter of 1838-1839, in accordance with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the federal government evicted 16,000 Cherokees from their homeland and marched them through snow and ice a thousand miles west to Indian Territory. On the way 4,000 Cherokees died of cold, starvation, and disease. Their journey to Indian Terry was called by survivors the "trail of tears," in Cherokee, nu na da ul tsun yi, "the place where they cried." The few who remained behind formed the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians...

Fairfield's Auction:

A Witherston Murder Mystery

By Betty Jean Craige

Although this is a typical cozy mystery in some ways, it is also an important novel based upon the historical, shameful, "Trail of Tears." This forced relocation of the Cherokees, in particular, out of Georgia, is the basis upon which the story is set in the present... This would be a hilarious novel is many ways--hard to say since there's going to be murder--but Craige has managed it by creating a set of characters that readers enjoy as well as begin to love.
...Mrs. Rather came to the scene when nobody was looking and climbed into the back of the truck. She freed almost a hundred more chickens and then found Doolittle's cage among the chicken crates. When Deputy Pete Senior arrested her for releasing the chickens she sang, "If you've been to jail for justice, you're in good company." --Catherine Perry, Reporter

Part of the unique format is the inclusion of the town's online newspaper. Indeed, it begins  as part of the Prologue and continues throughtout the book, many times with Breaking News...It routinely provides the Weather report for Witherston, Georgia, goes on to Announcements, News, Letters to the Editor, Police Blotter, and an "In This Month" historical article By Charlotte Byrd, one of the main characters, who goes by Lottie, and who is being played by our author...More about the Parrot later...

Setting up the story as the first part of the Prologue is merely text messages between "Alpha" and in this case, a criminal who is called by a number...Apparently, this Alpha has a crew of criminals since we meet at least two of them in the book. "Six" was asked, as a test, to do his first job--to kidnap a pet. His name is Doolittle, who you might realize is the actual main character of the book--he talks!
After a moment of thoughtfulness, Tony said, "Time for practice, folks. Let's start with "Light one Candle." 

Hempton Fairfield spoke into the mic. "Ladies
and Gentlemen, this is our beloved Doolittle.
He is a young African Grey Parrot, a Congo
African Grey parrot, who has lived with us for
about a year." He's eighteen months old."
...He looks sick," Mev murmured.
From across the room Lettie's friend Gretchen
Green...yelled, "The bird is not healthy. Just
look at him. And he doesn't belong in a tiny
"You don't deserve to keep him..."
"You mean your child is for sale?"
...Lottie stood up. "I will give you two thousand
dollars to stop the bidding. And I will take
Doolittle home with me now."
...I would have bid five thousand to take him
out of your hands, Mrs. Fairfield...
It all started when an auction was scheduled by the Fairfields, a couple who have an interest in Native American artifacts...

And the local Cherokees attended...

..."Pay attention ladies and gentlemen, and young men. This blowgun has probably killed more than a few of your forebears. And it could kill again. Your parents may want to big on it...I will start the bidding at three thousand. Who'll give me three thousand dollars for this fine Cherokee blowgun? Three thousand, three thousand. Do I hear three thousand..."The lady in blue bids three thousand dollars. Who will give me four?"
"Four dollars," shouted Thom Rivers, who stood along the wall with Waya Gunter...
Hempton Fairfield, the antique dealer, rose out of a chair at the side to the stage to point at Thom. "Who's he?" he demanded.
"I'll give you five dollars," Waya shouted. "That's more than you paid the Cherokees for it." He waved a hand-lettered cardboard sign with the words written large, CHEROKEES WERE ROBBED.

The auction, to say the least, was quite a spectacle! Not only were the young men who were, in essence, spotlighting the sale of stolen Native American artifacts, but for whatever reason, the Fairfield chose that time to auction off his own pet parrot, who clearly had been abused, at least to those who cared about animals...

And that clearly is almost the entire town! Everybody had pets...and the pets went everywhere with their "parents." And then there was Tayonita Village, where a number of individuals who wanted to live as their ancestors did, had free range chickens...
Catherine laughed. "Pretty-in-pink rhonda hardly looks like an old bird lady."
"I needn't have worried about hungry chickens"
"Or hungry animals of any kind when Rhonda is around...

Which leads us to that wintry night when a large 18-wheeler jackknifed across the main road and closed traffic for hours... During that time, Doolittle was stolen...the chickens that were being shipped on the truck were freed, and during that activity, Doolittle was found (after the ransom had been paid--another $2000 by Lottie) hidden among the crates of that truck...

And...two men who had both been involved at the auction died that night...

Given the nature of the story and its several main issues, the author has effectively had characters to argue both sides of the issue. Personally, I think that the Native Americans were robbed. In my mind there is no doubt about it. Just as with wars everywhere, "to the victors goes the spoils..." Just one of the reasons I detest wars! I bring this up though because I feel the author has done an excellent job providing both sides of several debates that have been and probably will continue in years to come. The key point for me is that she clearly showed the criminal trail all the way back to the 1800s--a superb historical track that led not only to the Trail of Tears but to the individuals who might have been the actual thieves... Very Cool, in my opinion...

I will forewarn you of one issue I questioned early... Namely, every single time in the book when people came together, the list of attendees, and their pets, was given...My thought was what's up with that?! Well, by the end of the book, I knew why it had been done. The author was writing, as her fictional town members actually lived... And, yes, I do name every single cat that lives with me and always call each by name...there's my hint for this book, LOL. Kudos to the author for the close attention to details of her story, setting, and characters!

By the way, one of the local reporters who is individual leading the search for information, but she also interacts with the local police as well as neighbors. In fact, there were so many people involved, I decided to dwell on Lottie and Doolittle as my most-enjoyed characters... I kinda like the idea of an online town newspaper, don't you?!

If you like cozy mysteries, enjoying the small-town feeling while also covering meaningful dialogue on major social issues, than you'll love this one as much as I did...

"May this prayer be yours, Waya," Atohi said.


Dr. Betty Jean Craige is Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. She has published books in the fields of literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art. Her most recent non-academic books are Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot and Downstream. Downstream, published by Black Opal Books, is a murder mystery set in north Georgia about the pharmaceutical pollution of our environment. Fairfield's Auction is her latest novel in the Witherston Murder Mystery series.

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