Thursday, December 21, 2023

Amanda Flower's Second in An Emily Dickinson Mystery Series - I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died - Quickly Became Personal Favorite for 2023


I love this new series by Amanda Flower! One of the main reasons is that she places the maid, Willa, as the narrator POV. Being able to, therefore, learn about the entire family, including the servants. If you haven't read the first book, check out my review... And, further, in relation to Willa was that, she was an avid reader and Emily had given her access to the family library for her use! I can fully imagine that if I were living at that time, I, too, would probably be that maid, working hard at manual labor in the home and gardens, but, sneaking around to find the next book to read, getting it to her bedroom, and, especially, without the head maid, Margaret, realizing that she spent most of her evening hours reading...

Additionally, you will find, that, perhaps because she was a reader and was able to learn and act on behalf of that new knowledge, Emily had picked her out of the servant status often, to act as her companion. Of course Margaret, having been there a long time, let it be known that it disrupted family services when this happened, but Emily had found somebody that she needed... A person with ears that could be beneficial when a mystery arose... In fact, in this book, it seemed that it was Willa who was putting together the clues much faster than Emily. Especially since she was involved in required family activities. 

You see, another member of the Dickinson family had entered the picture when Austin, and his new bride came home and moved into their home that his father had built for the couple in a nearby walking distance location... And, so it was that the murder mystery actually began!

I felt all the blood drain from my face. “Whatever do you mean?” “He is dead in the patch of black-eyed Susans.” “Show me,” I demanded. As much as I didn’t want to see what Cody described, I had to make sure it was true before I ran back and told the Dickinson family. Perhaps Mr. Howard was just ill and in his delirium fell over into the flowers. He might be sick or hurt and just need to rest. Maybe something he ate hadn’t agreed with him, but he couldn’t be dead. Dead was unbelievable. If he needed rest, why not go to his room for the night? Or had he, and then saw the state of the room and ran outside? But when he made the discovery, why didn’t he come back to the dinner and alert the party? Surely, Austin and Miss Susan would want to know if there was some sort of intruder in their home, because who but an intruder would ransack Mr. Howard’s room so horribly? No amount of rationalization could change the facts. 
When I reached the perennial garden, I realized Cody had been right in his description. Mr. Howard’s lifeless body lay in the patch of black-eyed Susans. His neck was turned to the side, and those bright blue eyes I thought had been so striking the first time I saw him were unseeing and dull. Their distinctive color seemed unearthly with no light of life within them. I put a hand over my mouth to hold back a scream. Even though I had been prepared for the sight, it was still so much to take in. My brother had been killed the year before, but I never saw his body after he died. This sight reminded me of when I found our mother dead in her bed after a long illness. In her case, she was withered and eaten away by disease and heartbreak. Mr. Howard was young and strong but just as dead. 
The only piece of his pale skin with any color was the bruise that had formed around his eye after Paulo the Peddler had hit him. Thoughts of Paulo made me wonder if he could have been the one responsible for Mr. Howard’s demise. He and Mr. Howard clearly had a history, and not a good one. Could he have killed the other man? But how? Other than the black eye from being struck earlier in the day, I didn’t see any wounds on Mr. Howard. He was just dead. Dead with no explanation at all. 
Cody stood behind me, twisting his hands so forcefully I was afraid he might break his fingers. “Willa, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?” His Irish accent was as thick as I had ever heard it. “Cody, you have to run to the Evergreens and tell the family. They will want to call the police.” “I can’t do that. I’m not allowed into the house.” He almost looked as pale as Mr. Howard when he said this. “You go, and I will stay here.” “I will stay here,” I said firmly. As much as I didn’t want to stand over a dead body, I couldn’t trust Cody not to disturb the scene with his pacing and frantic movements. There was no evidence a crime had been committed, but even still, we needed to be careful. 
Matthew taught me about the importance of physical evidence at a crime scene. He said it was becoming increasingly essential as the police departments advanced. More important than witness accounts even, which he claimed were unreliable. “I know Margaret has made a rule for all the servants that the outdoor workers aren’t allowed anywhere in the home other than the servants’ quarters and the kitchens, but, first of all, you aren’t going into the homestead, and, second of all, this is an exception. A man is dead.” His eyes were wide. “But Miss O’Brien! I don’t think she will care if it’s the Evergreens or not. She will give me a tongue-lashing for going into either home in my muddy clothes.” I examined him, and he had a point. His boots and pant legs were encrusted with dirt. I still didn’t believe that was enough reason for him to argue with me on the matter, but it was clear he was afraid of Margaret. I can’t say I blamed him. When I’d first met her, I had been frightened of her as well. “Very well. Run to the kitchens and tell one of the other servants to deliver the message to the dining room.” He hesitated a moment longer, as if he was trying to think of another excuse to stay behind with the body. “Go!” I shouted. 
“What about the police? I can’t be here when the police come.” He looked as if he might cry. “Why not?” I asked. “They will want to talk to you. You were the last one to speak to Mr. Howard, and you found his b—him.” “I’m Irish,” he said. “The police will take one look at me and blame me for this. They don’t need any other reason to pin it on a dirty Irishman. I tell you, when they arrive, they will be looking right at me. You’re here, too, but they will never suspect you, because you are not Irish, and you are a Yankee woman.” 
“Looking at you for what?” I asked, unsure what his point was. In the last few months I’d known Cody, I had become somewhat accustomed to his ability to talk in circles. His “gift of gab” as he called it could be confusing at times. “For his murder.” “We don’t know that he was murdered,” I said a little more sternly than I intended to. It was not lost on me that if I really thought this, then why did I think it was mandatory that I guard what could be the crime scene? And why had I thought for a brief moment that Paulo Vitali could be to blame? 
“But how else can a healthy young man drop dead in the middle of a garden?” Cody asked. “The only way I see it is if someone killed him.” “These are not ideas you want to share with the Dickinsons, their guests, or the police,” I said sharply. “If you do, they will become suspicious of you jumping to conclusions.” He paled in the light of the setting sun, and the dusting of red freckles across his nose became more pronounced. “There might be many reasons as to why Mr. Howard is dead,” I said. “Perhaps he had an illness he didn’t know about or was keeping a sickness secret. We don’t know. Murder is just one of the possibilities, and I have to say it is the least likely.” Cody didn’t exactly relax, but he at least stopped twisting his hands like he had them in some sort of vise. “Now, run to the Evergreens and alert the kitchen staff like I asked, so that the Dickinsons and the police can be told. There is no time to waste.” “What are you going to do?” he asked, taking one more moment to stall. “Don’t worry about me.” I gave him a little push. “Go!” Cody stopped arguing with me and took off toward the Evergreens at a run. 
After he was gone, my eyes were drawn back to the body. Poor Mr. Howard. I couldn’t say I liked the man, but I would not wish this fate on him. I could not help but believe from the agony contorting his face that he died in great pain. I had to look away. There came the sound of movement on the path behind me. I looked behind me, expecting to see Cody returning with another argument as to why he couldn’t be the one to tell the family what had occurred. Instead, I saw a woman in white walking down the garden path in the gathering twilight. I placed a hand on my chest, and for the briefest of moments, I thought it might even be a spirit perhaps of my dead mother. 
“Willa, did you find Mr. Howard?” Emily’s breathy voice shook me from my momentary horror. “Emily.” Her name came out of my mouth like a prayer of thanksgiving, and I remembered she had chosen to wear her white lace frock to the dinner party that evening. It was a summer dress with a broad collar and pointed sleeves. However, with the sun setting at her back, there was something ethereal about her. She seemed to float over the grass. I could very easily see why I thought of her as a ghost. “Willa,” she said in her soft tone that hovered in the humid evening air around us. “What has taken you so long? And why are you in my garden? I asked you to check on Mr. Howard.” 
“Did you pass Cody on the way from the Evergreens?” I asked, realizing by the way I stood I blocked her view of the perennial garden and Mr. Howard’s body. “I did. He wouldn’t tell me why he was running, but said I would find you near the patch of black-eyed Susans. Why are you here? And why was Cody running? He was so pale. I thought his freckles were going to pop off his cheeks.” “It’s Mr. Howard. He’s dead.” I said it as bluntly as she would. Perhaps there was something to just getting the words out without softening them in any way. Dead was dead. 
Instead of reacting with shock or concern, as I would expect of anyone at such an announcement, Emily simply said, “Show me.” “It is a gruesome sight,” I said. “He did not have a peaceful death.” “I conjure more gruesome images in my head than are possible. I assure you I can handle whatever it is.” I sighed and shifted aside so she could see the garden behind me. She stepped around me, but she was nearly a foot shorter than I was, and I could see well over her head. 
She looked down. “I heard a fly buzz when I died,” she murmured. As she said this, I noticed a large horsefly buzzing near Mr. Howard’s unseeing eyes. I wanted to shoo the fly away, but Emily stared at it so intently, I felt like I would be disturbing her if I moved...

Emily's brother Austin was now married, but not to a new individual to the family. It was Susan who had a long-time relationship to the sisters, so that, in marrying Austin, she had actually become a "sister" to them as well. But there are signs inserted so that we begin to think that Emily was not happy to have Susan now taking on a leading role in the family as the wife of the only male, other than her father. 

Susan had almost immediately took over as head of her new domain, while Emily and her sister were merely daughters to their mother and father. While Mrs. Dickinson was physically not well, that nevertheless did not change the status of this new family member. Immediately she began to talk about making "their" home a center for cultural events. Indeed, she had already invited Ralph Waldo Emerson to stay with them while he was lecturing to the Amherst Literary Society symposium at the college. (If you have not already been following the spotlights of visiting writers, do check out more information related to Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louise May Alcott in previous posts.)

In fact, it was Emerson's secretary, Mr. Howard, who had been found, dead, in the Dickinson's gardens!

Readers will find that Flower has given us a full set of possibilities as to who would have chosen to murder Mr. Howard, starting right at the beginning before we had even met Emerson's assistant. And, we also find that many of those suspects were part of the elite class of academics that lived in the area surrounding the Amherst College... So, my reader friends, what do you think would be the basis for murder of a writer's assistant/writer?

I was having too much fun just reading this book, as Willa and Emily try to solve the murder, while Willa's love interest tries to keep both of the women safe, as well as away from his boss... So many clues, so many potential individuals who'd like to have the man gone... well, I recommend you just sit back and enjoy because, sooner or later, all bad guys are held accountable, don't you think? 

If you like historical novels together with a cozy mystery flair, I recommend you start with the first in series... Future books are bound to get more complicated with more family and friend characters showing up! And, the vids below? A Cat! There was no way I wasn't going to share these two fun book cat videos!


And closing out this attention to Emily Dickinson, Have I found a kindred soul?

It is soon time to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus!

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