Saxxons in Witherston is a murder mystery that focuses on optimism and community more than the crimes themselves.
In Betty Jean Craige’s cozy mystery Saxxons in Witherston, a town attempts to repel a hate group while solving a historical cold case.
The peaceful town of Witherston, Georgia, is rocked by the murder of a white supremacist leader. This crime tilts the community’s peace and unearths a cold case murder from the late 1960s, when a black man was murdered and his pregnant, white wife was raped. She vanished. The police attempt to solve the present-day murder with an increasing suspect list, but the connections to the cold case keep cropping up. As the town becomes beset by racists and bigots hoping to prevent the city government from enacting a sanctuary policy, the twin crimes circle each other, leading to a surprising revelation that draws the community ever closer together.
The clever incorporation of newspaper pieces and transcripts helps to ground the story, as when, after major reveals and events, articles from the town’s website follow. Not all of the included articles are important to the overall narrative, but each builds up the town, its citizens, and the local history well. One or two articles either foreshadow events or elaborate on previous events through the lens of the local community, while transcripts for found video or interviews shake up the text while continuing to detail the community at large.
Characters are sketched in, with no one character stealing the spotlight. The leads are Detective Mev Arroyo and her teenage twin sons. The story circles back to them often, but the primary focus remains the town itself. The murders and other pivotal events are always followed by resident reactions, and this singular focus on the community is a fresh take on cozy mystery standards, helping to balance the unsettling crimes.
Conversations are rough and exposition laden, particularly in connection to the crimes. When characters discuss or share unrelated information, they speak in a more realistic, engaging way, and they often inject levity. Because of such side conversations, there’s a lightheartedness to the text that its key elements—including rape and murder—would otherwise hold off.
Scenes are set in a sparse manner. There’s nothing to distract from the steady pace. The two crimes are resolved in a satisfying way, with the cold case connected to the present-day murder in a surprising way. The town experiences heartwarming growth in the process, and Craige’s deft balance between the darkness of the crimes and the uplifting of the community make the work engaging.
Saxxons in Witherston is a murder mystery that focuses on optimism more than the crimes themselves.
John M. Murray
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