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Mystery Review   

 

 

 
The Valley of the Jewels
By Mary Saums
Silver Dagger Mysteries, 2001
ISBN: 1-57072-189-0

 

 
 

 

Midnight Hour (named for the Wilson Pickett tune), Mary Saums' debut novel introduced back-up singer turned private investigator Willi Taft to mystery readers. In The Valley of the Jewels, Saums makes the Muscle Shoals Sound connection clearer to her audience by setting the novel in the quad cities (Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia) in the northwest corner of Alabama known collectively as "the Shoals". 

When Willi Taft is invited to teach a course in the Commercial Music Program at Grisham Faulkner in Florence, Alabama, she jumps at the chance to spend four days a week in her hometown of Tuscumbia (located across the Tennessee River).  Her career as a back-up singer has dried up, and following cheating spouses with a camera, "Plan B", becoming a private investigator, isn't as profitable as she'd hoped. 

Willi's goal of settling into a quiet life for the semester is shattered when her friend, Dr. Jada Winston, Professor of History and Civil War expert, is murdered after appearing in a local Civil War re-enactment.  Several days later, when Althea Preston, the first southern African-American opera singer to cross the color line, returns home for a concert, Willi begins to believe that her luck has changed. When Ms. Preston finds a racist note in her dressing room, Willi has no choice but to help her childhood heroine. Her search for answers will end ties between black and white neighbors of Willi's hometown that have lasted for over 135 years.

Residents of the region will recognize local landmarks.

In The Valley of the Jewels, Saums is following one of the first rules taught in Creative Writing -- she's writing about an area and profession she knows. She grew up in North Alabama and after college, she worked in Muscle Shoals, Alabama as a recording engineer on albums recorded by Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffett, and other musicians.

Ms. Saums also writes poetry and short stories. Nikki Giovanni selected the author's poem, "The Blues Reminds Me" for a Tennessee Writers Alliance Award and her short story,"Aiyee, Chihuhua!" was given The Editor's Choice Award by Futures Magazine.

 

Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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