People’s Choice: The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey

Cosy-ish murder mystery in Oklahoma…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Harley Day beats his wife, terrorises his children, fights with his neighbours and has fallen out with his relations, so when he turns up dead the general feeling in the little town of Boynton and the surrounding farming community is that the old buzzard sure had it coming! Alafair Tucker’s husband owns the neighbouring farm to the Days’, but Alafair wouldn’t have been too much interested in Harley’s death except that she has found out that her daughter, Phoebe, has been sneaking over to visit Harley’s son, John Lee, and the two youngsters appear to be in love. So when John Lee becomes the chief suspect, Alafair wants to know the truth – did he do it?

Set in the early 1900s in Oklahoma, this is a cosy-ish murder mystery with lots and lots of authentic-feeling details about life in a farming community at that time. Alafair and her husband Shaw have nine surviving children, ranging from little kids to teenage sons and full-grown daughters, and the prevailing feeling reminded me very much of the Waltons – they all love each other and get along; the kids are kind and respectful, and help their parents with the farm and housework; and they’re all very close, so that a threat to one is a threat to all.

I say cosy-ish rather than cosy, though, because there’s enough grit in here to keep it feeling real. We learn of the children Alafair lost in infancy, we see the poverty of the less fortunate members of the community, and we see how women’s lives are dependant on the will and nature of their men. Shaw is a lovely husband, who works hard, stays sober and enjoys nothing more than spending time with his wife and kids, so Alafair’s life is sweet, even though she works harder than a modern woman could possibly imagine just to keep her huge family fed and the household running smoothly. Shaw and Alafair have a modern outlook for the time (though not in any way anachronistic), allowing their daughters to be educated beyond basic schooling if they choose – one of the oldest girls has secretarial qualifications, for example.

In contrast, Harley Day is a vicious, drunken brute who neglects his farm, so his wife and family are poor and often hungry, to say nothing of the constant threat of physical violence. Although everyone knows this, there’s no real way to intervene – Harley effectively owns his family, and the idea of his wife leaving him would be scandalous despite his treatment of her, and anyway, how would she survive and be able to feed her many children?

Donis Casey

The book is fairly slow, but that seems to suit the story, set in a time when life itself was slower paced and things took longer – no quick phone calls, so if you wanted to ask a neighbour something you had to hitch up the pony to the buggy and drive a few miles over difficult roads and through bitterly cold weather. Casey tells us in detail about how Alafair feeds her family – a massive undertaking with no convenience foods – and how the weekly laundry wash gets done, and so on. But she does it very well, as part of the story rather than as an interruption to it, and I loved all this detail, while thanking my stars for microwaves and washing machines!

The mystery element is very good, although Alafair’s detection skills rely a little too much on lucky guesswork. There’s a good range of suspects, and the pacing, though slow, is steady, holding my interest throughout. Alafair’s method is simply to go and ask questions of various neighbours and townsfolk, and this lets us see how the society works. I didn’t guess the murderer, but found the solution satisfying and believable, and rather darker than I anticipated. I found the whole read enjoyable, absorbing and comfortably relaxing, and Alafair’s plethora of children means there’s plenty of room for more stories about her family in the future – I look forward to reading some of them.

Book 1 of 12

You chose this book for me in a People’s Choice Poll, and hurrah! You picked a winner! Well done, People – I knew I could rely on you! 😉

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36 thoughts on “People’s Choice: The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey

  1. If I recall you’ve had some real duds as a result of People’s Choice, so I’m glad we finally picked a winner! I like that the main character has a happy marriage with modern (but not unbelievable) values about education etc – so often books set at this time with a female main character go the bleakest route, but there must have been plenty of people with healthy relationships too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I have! But it’s my fault for adding them to my TBR in the first place, so I forgive you all. 😉 Yes, I liked the happy family aspect too – I get fed up with everyone in crime fiction having such miserable family lives. I liked that she didn’t go over the top with the female education either – making the girl a captain of industry would have spoiled it, but being a secretary is quite believable for the time.

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  2. I just had to read this one when you first posted about it because of its title! I enjoyed the immersion in early 20th century Oklahoma backwoods life and this has left a stronger impression on me than the story itself. I’m glad you enjoyed it too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it too – when I was looking back at the poll, it reminded me you’d said you’d got it from the library so I wondered how you’d got on with it. It was all the background stuff that really appealed to me too – I liked that she managed to work it all in naturally, rather than like pages of researched info dump. I might go on and read another one or two of them – great comfort reading!

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  3. So glad we didn’t steer you in the wrong direction, FictionFan! This sounds great – may even put it on my own wish list. I do like stories with an authentic sense of place and time. It sounds as though the mystery itself is solidly-done, too. And I have to say, I love the title. It sounds as though there’s a balance between ‘cosy’ and ‘authentic’ here, which I appreciate. It’s not easy to do that well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you might enjoy it, Margot – all the historical detail felt very authentic to me, but she never let the mystery get swamped by it. I think the family is based on her own grandparents or maybe great-grandparents, from the dedication, though hopefully they weren’t constantly caught up in murders! 😉

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  4. I seem to remember choosing this one because of the title, so I’m glad it was a good experience for you over all. The atmosphere and reflection of life at a particular time sound especially well done, so I’ll keep it in mind.

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    • It really shows the benefit of a great title, since I think that’s what attracted me to it most too. It was perfect for my current mood – a mix of comfort reading with a good solid mystery, and all the historical detail was very well done, worked in naturally rather than just dumped on the page.

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  5. It’s a little disconcerting to read the word “slow” several times in a review, but I do understand that this may go with the territory. We’ve gotten so used to snappy pacing that anything less than that feels like a yawn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, slow often doesn’t work for me, but that’s because it’s often just padding out a flimsy plot. This one was slow by design, if you know what I mean – the story paced out at a relaxed speed, leaving room to develop the family aspect. Very well done!

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  6. I am delighted that you enjoyed this first book in Donis Casey’s series about life in early 20th century Oklahoma. This is a favorite series of mine and I’ve read every single book. Each one has a tendency to feature one of Alafair’s children more prominently and the reader gets to know them and also more about the whole family. The 9th book, Return Of The Raven Mocker, is interesting particularly because it’s set during the flu pandemic of 1918-19. Alafair has definite opinions on what should be done about quarantining and of course there is also a crime to solve. Part of why I love this series is that my mother’s family is from Oklahoma and I grew up listening to my grandmother and her sisters describe life at that time. Many things are similar to how this author describes things. Makes me want to reread the whole series. LOL

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    • I think I told you that it was your reviews that drew this one to my attention, way back years ago when I added it to my TBR, so thank you! It may have taken me a while(!) to get to it, but it was worth it. I thought she probably would base each book around a different one of the children, and that appeals to me – still the same family, but from a different angle. I thought the historical stuff sounded very authentic, so I’m glad you found it to be too. I liked the recipes at the end too, though they sound like a heart attack on a plate… 😉 I’m looking forward to reading some of the others – hopefully without waiting another five years!

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  7. I remember this title, and that being the reason I voted for it. So glad it turned out to be a winner!! I don’t mind slow-paced books when they’re good enough to savor the slowness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really shows the benefit of a great title, since that seems to be what attracted most of us to it, and it really suited the plot! Yes, if slowness is because the author’s padding out a flimsy plot it drives me insane, but when it’s just a relaxed but steady pace like this one, it makes for excellent comfort reading.

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  8. I can’t remember if I voted for this one or not, but it sounds like an enjoyable read. I’m glad “the people” didn’t tax you with a dreadful choice, FF! I haven’t read any of her books, so I have to at least put her name on my list so I can check her out. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you did! So thank you – you picked a winner! 😀 She seems to have written several books in the series and I’m looking forward to visiting with the family again some time. Great for when you fancy something a bit more relaxed than a lot of contemporary crime fiction is… 😀

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  9. Perhaps this is just the sick twisted side of me, but I really enjoy reading about how hard life was in decades past, probably because it just serves to make me grateful for the conveniences like you say; washing machines, microwaves, etc!

    Liked by 1 person

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