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Independent Book Review: Stamp Mill Murder

Independent Book Review

“Stamp Mill Murder” Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

A thoroughly enjoyable series that just keeps getting better

Life has been settling down in Pony Gulch, Montana. For moonshiner Delores Bailey, that’s good news. Since being cleared of the murder of her only friend, she’s eager to get back to business. Having a few new friends around hasn’t hurt either. But when one of the workers at Stamp Mill mine is murdered, she’s drawn into the fray.

Stamp Mill is one of her sales sites and she happened to be there the day Neville McKenzie died. Given her knowledge of the place and its people, Sheriff Sam Browne asks her to help in the investigation.

That may be more dangerous than it seems, given that the murdered man was married into the wealthiest and most powerful family in town and that these little communities like to guard their secrets.

The Moonshiner Mysteries series steps up its game with this second installment. The first book, Big Sky Murder, is a great set-up: it introduces the characters and shows readers around a fascinating historical small world. This second book, Stamp Mill Murder, expands all the horizons: Characters who were already thoroughly enjoyable gain more nuance; we explore the town of Pony Gulch and its surrounding mines and forests deeper; and all the great historical aspects are developed even further.

In Big Sky Murder, Delores begins to open to the idea that she may have people in her corner. In Stamp Mill Murder, she realizes that she could actually be part of a community. The subtle but steady shift in her perspective is brilliantly handled. In the space of one book, we go from a character who has so little trust in others that she’s ready to cut and run at the first sign of trouble to one who is willing to stir the trouble and stand her ground.

I loved the historical elements in Big Sky Murder. It’s richly detailed but sprinkled in sparsely enough that it doesn’t bog down the story. The trend continues with Stamp Mill Murder. Decter has clearly buried herself in research. There are elements in the story that I read up on later, because I’d never heard of them, and they were so interesting. With Stamp Mill Murder, Decter takes the historical aspects a step deeper and digs into the mindsets and laws that governed 1920s society. Despite being an escapist novel, it doesn’t sugarcoat the darker parts of the era.

Stamp Mill Murder does occasionally lose some of its drive, either raising plot points that it doesn’t quite follow through on or repeating incidents that should have been resolved the first time around. While it’s very human to waver like this, making decisions and going back on them makes for some occasionally repetitive reading.

Light and fun with enough historical clout to hold its own, this series is turning out to be a fantastic escape from reality. It doesn’t shy away from the often harsh truths of rural life in the 1920s but makes its stories work inside the confines of the time it is set in.