Book Review: “A Lack of Temperance” by Anna Loan-Wilsey

Today’s book review is for A Lack of Temperance, a delightfully cozy mystery by Anna Loan-Wilsey. As I mentioned in a previous post, I bought this story a few weeks ago during an impromptu buying spree at our local used bookstore, Books at a Steal. The store is appropriately named, considering the book was an exceptionally reasonable price of just a dollar or two. Yet another reason that buying used is good for the soul!

During the pandemic, I’ve gravitated towards everything related to coziness, quiet, and above all, a sense of escape from the day. The cozy mystery genre is the perfect combination of these traits in book-form. Curl up on the couch with a velvet blanket and a strong cup of coffee, and you can enjoy a peaceful night reading about a plucky narrator solving mysteries that involve only minimal bloodshed. Bad things happen, but the good people always win. Sigh.

(Side Note: In March, I stumbled across an article that informed me I’m not actually the only person that seems to have turned to the cozy mystery genre this past year. In fact, booksellers are reporting an increase in these books’ sales. In case you’re interested, here’s the link to the post by Tamara Lush of the Associated Press).

Going along with the year’s theme of coziness, today’s book review is being written from one of the coziest places I know, from atop my dear little folding desk on the back porch. Our foster dog, Pippa, is snuggled on my left and the ever-faithful Queso stands guard to my right.

Seeing as we’re all cozy, let’s dive into the review!

A Lack of Temperance is the first story in Loan-Wilsey’s Hattie Davish mystery series. After debuting in 2012, the series currently has a total of five books featuring the talented Ms. Davish:

A Lack of Temperance is set in 1892 and takes place in an actual Arkansas town (Eureka Springs) famous for its supposed “miraculous” springs. Narrator Hattie Davish, a secretary by profession, is sent to Eureka Springs by her employer, Sir Arthur Windom-Greene. The assignment is vague, and she only knows she is meant to assist a Mrs. Trevelyan by providing secretarial services.

Upon her arrival to Eureka Springs, Hattie is startled to discover her temporary employer leads the local chapter of the American Women’s Temperance Coalition. These women are encouraging citizens to help make alcohol sales illegal in the midst of the presidential election, citing a long list of problems including substance abuse, drunk husbands, and a general disapproval by God himself.

Some of the group’s members are willing to resort to violence to support this cause. In fact, Hattie’s very first sighting of the elderly Mrs. Trevelyan is watching her swing a hatchet while setting fire to a local saloon in town in the name of the temperance movement. (And you thought your employer had a temper. . .)

When Mrs. Trevelyan vanishes and her body is later found, Hattie gets to work piecing together the clues to find out what really happened to her employer. With some friendly side characters and a little romance sprinkled in, the story makes for a compelling read.

My favorite parts of the book include:

  • The Main Character: I love Hattie’s character! While she is necessarily persistent (crimes don’t get solved by lazybones, after all) her personality isn’t over the top in the way female detectives are typically portrayed. I especially adore that Loan-Wilsey chose to make her a secretary, a realistic job for a woman in the time period. She uses this role to her advantage, uncovering vital information and eventually, revealing the murderer’s identity. She’s also described as in her late 20s or early 30s, which is a refreshing change from teenage and senior detectives.
  • The Setting: The description of Eureka Springs is detailed, and I think the author does a lovely job conveying a newcomer’s impressions of the mountainous town. I actually want to plan a trip to Eureka Springs now, since it isn’t too far from North Carolina! Hattie’s plant-collecting hobby is an ideal source of information about the area, as well.
  • The Writing Style: Loan-Wilsey does an amazing job setting up the book as the first in a series. Details about how Hattie started working for Sir Arthur are naturally sprinkled throughout (rather than the reader getting the dreaded “info dump” at the beginning of the story). The author also includes a few references to Hattie’s past that I imagine are fleshed out in the later books, creating an extra layer of mystery.

I would have enjoyed getting to know the side characters a little more, as I didn’t have much attachment to any of them except the maid, Mary, who made frequent appearances, and Walter, the town doctor. I also didn’t find myself overly surprised by many of the plot points, but the writing style itself was so clear and uncluttered that I didn’t mind.

This book is a great choice for anyone wanting some light reading while on vacation in the mountains or simply an evening imagining you’re not stuck inside during the pandemic.

Have you read this book? Do you also have a love of cozy mysteries or want to leave some book recommendations? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

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