If Agatha Christie were alive she might have written “Tracking Happiness” in collaboration with P.G. Wodehouse but this cosy mystery is by Ellen Morris Prewitt. Ellen is a 21st century writer whose use of comic dialogue reminds me of Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories and who handles plot and red herring infusions like Agatha Christie. Think “Murder on the Orient Express” meets “My Man Jeeves”.
“Tracking Happiness” is a fun read, light fare and ideal for tucking into your carry-on luggage on your holiday. What’s it all about? The back of the book blurb says “Single again Lucinda – of the ‘Edison, Mississippi fried chicken royalty’ – learns Big Doodle Dayton is blaming her dead daddy for the drug scandal exploding at the local Chicken Palace fried chicken joint. She takes off cross country on the train to clear her daddy’s name, while hopefully discovering the secret to happiness along the way.” In the words of Lucinda, “I would just about chew barbed wire to get out of town.”
Ellen Morris Prewitt is a southerner and has a gift for description that roots her main character firmly in place while she hurtles across the cold northern USA on a train trying to right a family wrongly wronged.
Back in Edison, they were enjoying the lavender spills of wisteria vines and the scarlet, balled azaleas. Dogwoods, pink and white, lined the narrow streets….
Meanwhile outside her train window in North Dakota she sees
Overhead, the fading sun burnt a hole in a cloud, a matchstick held to film, burning away the past, searing into the future.
Her lively descriptions extend to characters, too. Can’t you just picture the face behind “…denture-chomping hayseed” and someone who spouts “Learning Channel-wisdom”? Or how about “…his face drawn up like he’d been sucking on an under-ripe persimmon.”
Ellen reverses the literary trope of eccentric southern family and deftly applies it to a character’s northern clan who are, among many other idiosyncrasies, an award winning oompah band called the “Tuba Who’s”. Obviously oddballs are merely a matter of geographical perspective, right?
Humour is served to the reader on nearly every page like iced tea with every meal in lines like “…the woman who represented everything I was not: sophisticated, voluptuous, and a really good speller.”
Ellen’s insights into people and situations are woven throughout the story.
Strangers did that on the train: shared….On trains our lives unfolded in silo stories, each one standing straight and tall…. People were warm, too, interested in what you had to say, uh-huh-ing and following right along with your tale.
I was particularly charmed by a smidgen of Canadian content (or Can-con as we call it way up north) in this reference “In the background a loud, thumping song played: ‘Smoke on the Water’, ompah style. In the chaos, someone belted out ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.’”*
To sum up:
You can read this book on a boat,
You can chortle while you float,
You can read it laughing in a plane,
But honey, best you read it on a train.
Thanks for a good read, Ellen.
*”The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is a ballad written and recorded by Canadian Gordon Lightfoot.