By Robin Marwick
When I offered to review a book about an indexer, I vaguely expected a cozy mystery, perhaps with an index entry at the head of each chapter. See Also Murder is not cozy. Set in the stark landscape of North Dakota in 1964, it’s narrated by Marjorie Trumaine, a farm wife and freelance indexer. Marjorie’s husband, Hank, was blinded and paralyzed in a hunting accident, and Marjorie is holding things together—barely—with help from neighbours and her indexing work for a New York publisher. When her closest neighbours and friends are found with their throats slit, the local sheriff asks Marjorie to help identify a mysterious amulet found with the bodies.
And then, naturally, more bodies start to pile up, and Marjorie fears that her husband’s life and her own are in danger. Plus, she has this deadline for a book about headhunters that she can’t blow if she wants to keep working. It’s easy to see how the scenario could have been played for laughs, but like its North Dakota setting and Scandinavian-descended characters, See Also Murder is serious.
Marjorie is an organized, meticulous list maker with a healthy dose of curiosity, which makes her a good indexer and a decent, if reluctant, detective. Indeed, she compiles an index and enlists the help of the town librarian to help her solve the murders. See Also Murder has some indexing lore sprinkled here and there, which isn’t surprising as Sweazy is an indexer himself. There’s enough to be interesting, but not so much that it feels crammed in regardless. As a narrator, Marjorie is didactic and detailed. At certain points you get the sense that she’s desperately lonely, narrating her own life to remind herself that she exists.
The pace is leisurely, which gives the reader plenty of time to appreciate the book’s atmosphere of creeping dread, combine harvesters, and relentless wind. The period detail and the farm setting are perhaps the most satisfying parts of the book. Marjorie sews her own clothes, has to contend with eavesdroppers on the party line, and is more comfortable than she’d like to be with a .22 rifle. A death demands the delivery of food; the pigs and chickens must be fed no matter what.
The mystery unfolds at its own pace, separate from that of farm life. It holds your attention and plays fair, but the revelation of “whodunit” and why didn’t entirely work for me. What did stay with me were Marjorie and her struggle to keep going under desperately difficult circumstances. For that, See Also Murder is well worth your time.
Robin Marwick is a Toronto-based freelance editor, medical writer, content strategist, and dog lover.
This article was copy edited by Chris Hughes.