Crossing The Line: A Darcy James Mystery is a book that I was given for review purposes through the Read and Review program at Choosy Bookworm. Reading and reviewing books is one of my winter volunteer service projects. I know how difficult it is for writers to get reviews, and I enjoy supporting other authors. I have found some very enjoyable books there. I strongly recommend it if you enjoy reading books by fresh voices. The one I am promoting today, is one of the best ones I have read through this program; yet, I promote for another reason as well. The person who completed and published this book is not the author. She is the sister of the author. Miss Lively passed away in 2012, and her sister, with the support of other family members, is working hard to complete and publish her work. This fall, I lost a family member while I was recovering from pneumonia, reminding me of the shortness of our stay on this planet. I am impressed with her family’s devotion, and wanted to do my part to help them get this wonderful book into the hands of more readers.
Darcy James is the daughter of a black jazz musician and a French prostitute. She could easily pass for white. In 1913 Chicago doing so would make her life a lot easier. Instead she clings tightly to her racial identity and the memory of her beloved father. That is, until her courage and intelligence are put to good use as an undercover investigator for Ida Wells-Barnett and her anti-lynching campaign. Darcy is recruited to investigate the death of a young black man, Saylor Cates, in the town of Medicine Chant, Oklahoma. Accused of raping a white woman, Saylor is killed by an angry mob. But the facts are far from clear. Her mission is to dig deep into the community to uncover the truth behind Saylor’s murder. Before leaving Chicago, Darcy launches her own personal crusade to find and punish the men responsible for her lover’s death. Danny Sardo was a tortured soul and escaped his pain with an overdose of morphine. Darcy enters into an uneasy alliance with his former employer and infamous brothel owner, Fat Louie Napoli. It is up to Fat Louie to use his resources to uncover the conspiracy behind Danny’s death and clear a path for Darcy’s revenge.
Meanwhile in Medicine Chant, Oklahoma, Darcy sustains a dangerous masquerade. Posing as white, she has easy access to the local elite. But her questions are making some people nervous. The community has something to hide that goes deeper than the killing of one black man.
Darcy must use all her wits to solve this tragic puzzle, or she could very well be the next victim of a noose tied in Medicine Chant, Oklahoma.
Character Interview: Darcy James
I understand your mother killed herself right in front of you when you were a child. That must have been awful. Do you ever have nightmares or are there other ways that this event still haunts you today?
I was only four, but I remember it well. I had always felt somehow responsible. I remember her words, that she was doing it because of me. It seems silly, really, that a four-year-old could be responsible for someone else’s life; particularly a mother, the one who should be taking care of the child. But I couldn’t shake the feeling. My father tried to make up for it. He thought I couldn’t have remembered it correctly or not at all, really. I tried not to think too much about it. But for the longest time, I believed she never really loved me. And that thought did haunt me for much of my life
While I understand how you clicked with Danny, was there a time when you were afraid that being with him was too dangerous?
No, never. I would have done anything for Danny, gone anywhere with him. My only fear was being without him.
I love how close you are with Yeva Silver. Tell me more about your first meeting with her and how she came to love and accept you.
Yeva Silver was kind to me even before I met her. She, well, all the Silvers, came into my life through a misunderstanding, the misreading of a title on a piece of music my father wrote for me. It was her influence on her husband that helped me reclaim my father’s legacy. Yeva is one of the most giving and loving people I know. I believe it is in her nature to be understanding of human frailty, to try and heal wounds, both physical and emotional. When we finally did meet in person, I think she saw in me someone who needed a family. Sometimes I catch her looking at me in a certain way, and I think she can see things about me that I don’t even know about myself.
I am so impressed with your courage. Investigating lynching can be very dangerous. Was there a point where you thought about backing off of the assignment in Medicine Chant?
I prefer going it alone. So I usually work without partners or backup, and I don’t join the communities where I’m investigating. Typically I pretend to be a newspaper reporter just trying to get a good story. But Medicine Chant was so different. The lies were intricate and embedded deep in the community’s past. The only way to get at the truth was to go undercover. This meant relying on others and working as part of a team. And, well, trust isn’t something I give easily. Posing as white is extremely dangerous, and I did at one point think of leaving, particularly when I realized my safety depended on others.
It was fascinating to see the way you and Karen connected. What do you think drew you to her so quickly?
Connected to the murder of Saylor Cates was the suicide of Sarah Hart, Karen’s mother. In fact, the two deaths happened on the same day. Karen, unfortunately, was present in the room when her mother shot herself. Her experience was jarringly similar to my own. I understood immediately her self-contained silence. Suicide is another type of mystery. It leaves behind so many questions. And, I think, when you love someone, it is hard not to feel in some way responsible. In solving the murder of Saylor Cates, I was able to understand Sarah’s actions. I hope one day, when Karen is older, that the truth of Sarah’s suicide will free her from the terrible burden of her mother’s death.
About the Author
Donna Lively was a writer, poet, and award-winning storyteller. Her audio compilation of Scots-Irish stories, “Onions in the Stew,” won a 2005 Parents’ Choice Award. She was a member of the Tejas Storytelling Association and was recognized as one of the best storytellers in Texas.
She was also a huge fan of historical mysteries and an excellent amateur genealogist. In fact, it was a mystery in her own family’s lineage that inspired Donna to create the character of Darcy James and give her a complex puzzle to solve amidst the racial violence of the post-Reconstruction South.
Donna was committed to telling the stories of forgotten people, marginalized cultures, and unforgivable crimes. In her stories, she gave voice to the ethnic diversity that is America; a diversity that was a particular characteristic of her own family.
Donna died in May 2012, leaving behind a legacy of storytelling of which “Crossing The Line” is the first in a planned series of three Darcy James Mysteries.
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