Live Local and Dead by Nikki Knight, to be published by Crooked Lane Books on 8th Feb, 2022
This novel is set in a small town in Vermont, and the action starts when Jaye Jordan, in a fit of anger, shoots a snowman only to find out that, inside the snowman, is a dead human being (that much is on the blurb, so isn’t a spoiler!).
What follows is more a portrait of life in a small town in Vermont than a traditional murder mystery – though the murder holds the plot together. Jaye is a radio presenter and has come into ownership of the local radio station. She is also recently divorced, so a single mother.
The action on the murder does not crack along, but the characters felt real and the descriptions were often quite funny.
I was vaguely aware of the smarmy creep’s existence because David’s one-hundred-and-three-year-old grandfather watched the Gadflies all the time, driving his liberal parents crazy. That, and a lawsuit against Frat Boy for his harassment of a town council member in a nearby suburb who’d called for a resolution deploring a high-profile white supremacist march.
Politics comes into the book. Under Trump, the US saw an eruption of the politics of race, gender and sexual identity. Jaye’s relationships with her relatives and some of her friends, while not defined by politics, are coloured by them. That 103-year-old grandfather referred to above is not the only person in the book who is at the other end of the political spectrum from Jaye and those politics also underpin much of the plot.
The novel, though, is more than the politics. As the story evolves, we see the friendships, enmities and alliances in a small town. The community comes across as deeply religious, though not in an in-your-face way:
Meave – in full vestments – and what sure looked like all of St Michael’s parishioners were standing at the base of the porch, many muttering things that would not have been appropriate in a sanctuary.
One thing I also liked a lot about the book was that people laugh. The writing itself is funny, but the way the characters blow off steam through wit and jokes is very real, and very well depicted. I don’t mean set piece jokes, but snappy rejoinders and defusing tense situations through humour. Writers (including myself) often forget this aspect of life; this novel was a healthy reminder.
All in all, this was a worthwhile read. I don’t know if the author will succeed in serialising the work – in a sense, I hope she won’t as there’s only so much crime a small town in Vermont can take, and the result would be a written soap opera – but as a standalone read, this was very satisfying.