If I Had a Hammer
by Teresa Trent
May 1-26, 2023 Virtual Book Tour
In 1963, Dot Morgan’s life was changed forever. She witnessed the assassination of John F Kennedy through the lens of her boxy Kodak Instamatic camera, bringing traumatic aftereffects of the brutality that happened as they stood on the parade route in Dallas.
She starts her first real secretarial job with a boss who has no sympathy for her trauma. When Dot’s only work friend has a mysterious accident at a demolition site, she digs around on her own only to find very little love between two brothers and no one hammering out justice to find a murderer.
The suspects are all around Dot and as she tries to sift through their motives, her cousin Ellie is going through PTSD on her own, losing interest in work, and her fiancé all the while quoting some of JFK’s finest speeches.
With so much change in her world, can Dot still tell the difference between good and evil?
For older readers like me, this novel was a trip down memory lane. I like how Trent firmly sets the mystery in the culture of the day by including popular television shows and hit songs. I also like how Kennedy's assassination was part of the plot as an event precipitating action. That the event had a huge impact on people is shown by Ellie making a rash decision to do Peace Corps work.
The novel is a good mystery too. I like Dot as a flawed amateur sleuth. While she can't seem to make it to work on time, she is good at getting to finally identify the villain. The villain was no surprise as Trent was not subtle in hinting at the dastardly character.
This is a fun mystery for readers who love all things 60s.
My rating: 4/5 stars.
Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: March 2023
Number of Pages: 230
Series: The Swinging Sixties Mystery Series, Book 2 | Each is a stand alone
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Read an excerpt:
Ellie screamed, making the driver jump. “Right here! Stop here,” Ellie said as she passed bills from the back seat to the front.
I looked up over a light brown building with straight white letters reading Texas School Book Depository. Above it was an ad for Hertz Rent-a-Car with a clock attached to it. It was straight up noon. The crowd was thickening as people found places to stand in a grassy area next to the street. It was almost as if the original landscaper had known this historic day would take place and designed the gradual slope along the road. According to the newspaper, Kennedy’s motorcade would arrive soon, and I felt the excitement building as we prepared to join the crowd. I pulled my arms through my sweater.
Ellie extended a hand to help me out of the yellow Checker cab. “Are you ready?”
“Oh yes. Let’s go over there.” I pointed to one of the few open spots next to the curb. “Hurry, before someone else gets it. I just hope we can hold the spot. There are some pretty big guys who might want to stand in front of us.”
Ellie smirked. “You know what I always say. ‘Knee them in the crotch and they sing a new song.’”
“Seriously, Ellie. I’m not attacking some poor man just so I can stand in front.”
“You’re right. I was trying to sound sophisticated Maybe not here but remember that. It may come in handy someday.”
I had decided to wear a new pair of black heels and felt them wobbling. We crossed the street and grabbed our spot just in time, causing another viewer to crowd in next to us. The smell of cigarette smoke circled us as people fiddled with cameras and readjusted black-rimmed glasses.
“Jack Kennedy is so handsome.” Ellie placed her hand over her heart, popping it on her chest like a heartbeat. “Too bad he’s already taken.”
“Stop.” I laughed. “I believe you’re already taken as well. Didn’t I hear something about you and Al getting married next June?”
Ellie gave a sweet smile as her eyes drifted upward. “I can’t believe that either. June. That’s just a little more than six months away.”
“Well, you deserve the happiness coming your way.” I patted my cousin’s shoulder. Ellie was in her thirties, practically spinsterhood in 1963. Finding Al, the electrician, had been the best thing for her. Love and marriage. It filled me with warmth. We were all living the American dream just like the characters in our favorite movies at the Rialto theater. The lyrics of “Young at Heart” drifted through my mind.
I sang a few lines from the song.
Ellie linked her arm with mine as she watched the street. A few cars drove by, but none that looked like a presidential motorcade. The breeze drifted across my exposed knees. A longer skirt would have shielded my knees, but I would endure the shivers for the sake of fashion.
“Ellie, did you see that picture of Jackie in the paper? She’s gorgeous. I saw her tour of the White House on TV. She’s so classy and looks beautiful in everything she wears.”
“Except she talks funny,” Ellie said, her Texas drawl turning “talks” into “tawks.”
“That’s because she’s from the East. She can’t help it. I’ll bet she thinks Texans talk funny. I’m sure they hear a lot of Texas twang coming from LBJ and Ladybird.”
“But that’s just music to anyone’s ears,” Ellie said. “Be serious.”
I glanced up and down the parade route. “Ben said he was going to be here. Maybe he’s farther down the street.” I pulled out my new Kodak Instamatic and hooked the leather strap around my neck. I raised the camera up to my eyes. “I hope I can get a clear picture of Jackie and John.”
“Listen to you. You talk like you know them,” Ellie laughed. “Jackie and John.”
“Well, in a way, I feel like I do. They’re America’s perfect family. I love them all. Jackie, John, Caroline, John-John.”
Ellie sighed and then drew in an excited breath with her hands clenched in front of her. “This is so exciting.” People continued to crowd up to the curb. A tall man in a brown plaid sport coat, holding binoculars up to his black boxy glasses, elbowed me to move over. I could feel tension in the air that comes when people anticipate witnessing something spectacular.
Just then, a line of shiny black cars came into view, ambling down the street in our direction. The breeze turned into a slight wind. I leaned forward and squinted, trying to identify who was in each vehicle. I felt my heart race as I recognized John and Jackie Kennedy sitting in the back seat as the car was surrounded by men on motorcycles. She was stunning in a pink wool suit and matching hat. I felt special knowing Jackie and I had worn the same color on this memorable day. She, of course, looked so much better. John had a healthy tan and a wide smile on his face.
I raised my camera and willed the man in the brown plaid coat not to step in front of me. This was a moment I was sure we would always remember. I hoped I could wind the film cartridge fast enough to take several pictures. Maybe they would want to use them in the Camden Courier? I wanted a good one of John, and another of Jackie. Just like real people, I thought but really, they looked like royalty, sitting in the open top limousine with policemen on motorcycles riding silently alongside—sort of a mobile palace guard. When the hood of the limousine was directly in front of me, I brought the Instamatic up and clicked to take a picture. I rolled the film to the next frame, took another, and repeated the process. Suddenly, I heard a popping sound somewhere behind me. I rolled the film lever with my thumb, now an automatic action, then turned toward the sound, only to see people scrambling and running to higher ground. The sound I heard wasn’t a pop. It was a gunshot. I looked back toward the motorcade and stood in horror as a man crawled over the back of the open convertible and the thing that caught my attention was the splotches of red invading Jackie’s beautiful pink suit. John Kennedy no longer sat smiling in front of me but was down in the seat on Jackie’s lap.
Excerpt from If I Had a Hammer by Teresa Trent. Copyright 2023 by Teresa Trent. Reproduced with permission from Teresa Trent. All rights reserved.
Teresa is a hybrid author, self-publishing early in her career, which led her to traditional publishing with Level Best Books and Camel Press. She is the author of several short stories that have appeared in a host of anthologies. Teresa publishes the blog and podcast, Books to the Ceiling at https://teresatrent.blog where she loves to read the book excerpts of other writers and share in the writing community.
Teresa is a member of Sisters in Crime and lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son.
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(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)
Nice review. I love books about the 60's!!! Sounds like a fun read. :-)
Thank you for such a nice review, and I'm glad you enjoyed the book!
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