Miss Marple in North Dakota 

click to enlarge See Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery - By Larry D. Sweazy - Seventh Street Books; $15.95
  • See Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery
    By Larry D. Sweazy
    Seventh Street Books; $15.95

Marjorie Trumaine is a force to be reckoned with. Much like Miss Marple, she "happens" upon solving a series of grizzly murders in her small North Dakota town, which hasn't experienced a homicide for a quarter of a century, when Marjorie was a mere young child.

Be forewarned: Larry Sweazy's latest — his first featuring Trumaine — is another page-turner, starring a winning protagonist swept into a whirlwind. I intended merely to glance at the advance copy. When I closed the book, the clock announced 2:30 a.m.

A sleepy day with imperative deadlines was worth the bounty of gaining insights into how little we truly know about the people we profess to know best: their true desires, frustrations, coping mechanisms, breaking point. And how some among us, Iago-like, in fooling even the savviest judges of character, eventually bring about our own downfall.

Sweazy has framed his '60s-based story around Norwegian mythology. Marjorie is a farmwife, now coping with caring for her severely injured husband. Even before that challenge came an economic downturn pushed by poor crop returns. A lover of books and seeker of knowledge, she bit at the chance to gain new skills through correspondence classes. Armed with certification as an indexer of non-fiction books, she gained steady work from a major publisher to earn much-needed income. The book's title, See Also Murder, is, of course, an allusion to her indexing skills — and Sweazy, not incidentally, works as a freelance indexer.

NUVO has been following Sweazy for a number of years, particularly throughout the multiple award winning Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger Series and the Lucas Fume Westerns, along with his well-received novel set in Northern Indiana, The Devil's Bones, which brings to light the fractured lives of migrant workers in the tomato processing industry. We visited with Sweazy to talk about his switch to a new locale, from western to mystery.

"I think I've been writing character novels all along, and I hope readers embrace Marjorie as affectionately as they have my other characters," Sweazy said. "I write about the human condition, about finding answers to hard questions. That hasn't changed. I was in the Air Force and stationed in Minot, North Dakota in the late 1970s. I spent two years there; mostly out in the field as a security police for the Minuteman missile sites. The loneliness, stark extremism of the landscape, and utter beauty of it stuck with me all of these years. I thought it would be a perfect landscape to mirror the isolation of Marjorie's job as an indexer and inform the strength and resilience of her character."

It "made sense" to emphasize his Norwegian heritage in the new novel, because he knows the state — and its habitants of Norwegian origin — so well. He readily "explored that heritage a little deeper" to make Marjorie's sleuthing ring true.

Sweazy figures there will be at least three Marjorie Trumaine novels in print by 2017. "Beyond that I have no idea what will happen, but I love writing Marjorie and I can see writing her for a good while to come — but that's up to the readers out there," he said.

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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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