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Soiled Dove Murder review

Independent Book Review

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen, Independent Book Review

History, mystery, adventure, and action align as a 1920s schoolteacher takes on the mobsters of Virginia City.

School is out for the summer. Schoolteacher Lucie Santoro and Delores Bailey, her incongruous moonshiner companion, are using the break to help one of Lucie’s old pupils.

It’s been a long time since Lucie has seen Ruth, and she has changed more than she can believe. The once-impoverished student is now running a bordello of prostitutes in Virginia City. When one of her so-called “soiled doves” goes missing in suspicious circumstances, Ruth fears the worst. Local law enforcement aren’t inclined to care about the fate of a Chinese working girl, so Ruth turns to Lucie, the one person she knows will help.

As a teacher in the 1920s, life is a delicate balancing act for Lucie. Her morals must always be above reproach. Being seen with the owner of a bordello would be enough to shatter her reputation and destroy her career. And yet, when an old student needs her, she can’t turn her back. Little does Lucie know that losing her career may be the least of her worries. On this holiday, she’ll be in danger of losing her life.

The Moonshiner Mysteries is a series that keeps getting better. This third installment sees the protagonist of the first two books, Delores Bailey, in the supporting role as Lucie takes the lead. Expanding a previously secondary character proves to be a fantastic move on Decter’s part.

Lucie always had immense potential in the previous books, and here she is living up to it. The differences between Delores and Lucie are stark from the first novel. Lucie works within the confines of polite society while Delores operates outside of them. In the first books, Delores’s character arc involved her letting people in. Here, Lucie’s is about gaining independence.

The new protagonist and fresh setting amps Soiled Dove Murder up about tenfold. While I love spending time in Delores’s head, she grew so much in the first two books that I couldn’t see where she could go next. Clearly, I was very short-sighted because she continues to grow in this novel. Having Lucie in the limelight gives readers a chance to see a whole new side of Delores—the side that Lucie has always seen.

As always, the historical attention to detail is remarkable. From the very first bumpy, exhausting bus ride to the portrayal of Chinese immigration in 1920s USA, it’s clear how well Decter understands the world she’s writing. She doesn’t shy away from the less savory aspects of the era.

In Soiled Dove Murder, Decter delves into the racial discrimination, sexism, and morality of the 1920s. What I love about these novels is that the protagonists aren’t immune to the values of their time. They judge and misstep, but they are fully rounded empathetic characters and the more they experience, the wider their understanding becomes.

I don’t know if you can really have a gripe with this book. It’s clever, nuanced, entertaining, and fun all at once. I’ll admit, though, I still did have an issue with it. Sheriff Sam Browne wasn’t in it! Granted, the story couldn’t have been told if he was there, but I stand by my opinion.

Soiled Dove Murder was the first book I read this year, and it’s an excellent way to kick off 2023. Sitting down with it was like settling in with old friends. Comfortable, yes, but also engaging, exhilarating and delightful. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone looking for a solid historical adventure. There are a couple threads of mystery that weave through the series, teasing readers without reaching a resolution, and those alone will have me coming back for more.