Foxglove is the pen name of one of the mainstays who posts reviews, comments, and opinions on the Mystery Readers’ Cafe discussion at Amazon. For a few years, she has led the Amazon discussion “Favorite Mysteries Taking Place At Christmas”. The mysteries don’t have to be about Christmas; they must take place during the Christmas season. EXILES ON MAIN STREET combines everything readers look for in a mystery as well as addressing one of the worst periods in twentieth century history, Pol Pot and the killing fields of Cambodia.
I want to recommend a terrific mystery. It was a sleeper which I read because it is set at the Christmas season. I ended up being engrossed and also deeply moved. The book is EXILES ON MAIN STREET by Lisa Kleinholz.
I was rather dismissive when reading the first few pages. The detective,(highly original I thought) is Zoe Szabo. She is a former writer covering Musicians for Rolling Stone Magazine. Her husband was a former rock star in a less than A list but still good rock band. He formerly toured endlessly with the rock band and had a life threatening drug problem. At one point we are told Zoe had to fly to Japan with two young children because he was so seriously ill he might not recover. This caused a separation and threatened the end of the marriage. Ultimately her husband was able to stay clean and stopped touring with the band. Zoe describes her style of dress as glam-punk.
The couple. with their two much loved children move to a college town in Massachusetts. The reason this town is selected by the couple is that one of the residents, also a human rights campaigner, had been a long term friend of Zoe’s deceased parents. Zoe becomes a full time reporter for the local paper. She is very serious about this job, is very competent and tenacious. her husband has become a stay at home Dad and both of them are devoted to their three and five year old children.
The town is home to a number of Cambodians who are refugees who survived the unspeakable Pol Pot regime. Their family friend has been instrumental in bringing these refugees out of the border camps. There is quite a bit of information about Cambodian culture and the exile Cambodian Community. A violent murder happens within the town’s Cambodian population which provided the reason that Zoe has to research this situation. It helps that she is an empathetic person who is capable of responding to other people and to care about them .
In addition to the unfolding of the mystery, there is a lot of interaction that Zoe has with her co- workers and the owner of the paper. There are lovely scenes with the children and with her husband as well as their widower neighbor who has no close family. While the investigation is going on Zoe has Christmas shopping to do on a very limited budget. The family celebrates Christmas all together for what might be the first time.
The reader attends a Cambodian in America funeral etc. At the end of the book I was deeply moved. I found this book to be highly original, well plotted with very well developed characters.
The only fault that I find with the book is that it follows this common device in contemporary mysteries in which an intelligent and competent person makes a decision that is out of character and completely ridiculous and pointless. The purpose is to have a tension filled conclusion with a just in time rescue. I wince whenever I see this device used.
I do think that this book is well worth your time and that some it is likely to stick with you for a while.