Introduction: I will get right to the book, but I am compelled to relate how I was introduced to Sharyn McCrumb.
In a Mennonite owned, and operated, department store in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania — while shopping in the tote bag section – I was approached by a lady who asked “Do you enjoy reading?” Her first clue, I suppose, was the printed phrase on the tote I was contemplating … “So Many Books – So Little Time”. Well, a conversation ensued and this total stranger turned out to be a retired librarian with a passion for good mysteries. We compared notes on favorite authors, and she had a new one for me. I have this fellow shopper (neither of us Mennonite) to thank for my introduction to Sharyn McCrumb.
By the way, I purchased the tote. There was never really any question that I would, considering my passion for books and my affinity for owls.
Lovely in Her Bones is my second McCrumb read. It is part of the Elizabeth MacPherson series. MacPherson is a forensic anthropologist with an aptitude for solving two interrelated murders using science, history, folklore and backwoods medicine. In order to incorporate all these sources of knowledge, McCrumb has done her research and she has done it well.
True to the author’s celebration of the history and folklore of Appalachia, this story takes place in the hills of North Carolina. The area is referred to as Zone Six, and the native people are known simply as the Zone Six people because nobody knows what else to call them. They are a complete mystery. Professor Lerche hopes to solve the mystery using forensic anthropology. Elizabeth McPherson assists in the excavation and examination of ancestral bones.
Modern science may not have a name for the people of Sarvice Valley, but the people themselves identify as the Cullowhee and they wish to establish their ancestral rights, as Native Americans, to their land. They have an urgent need to have the Department of the Interior recognize their claim due to a mining company attempting to claim and buy out the land that is 98% Cullowhee.
Elizabeth is thrilled to discover a renowned medicine woman/naturalist, Amelanchier Stecoah, is a member of this native community. This leads to a connection between Elizabeth and Amelanchier through a common interest in Appalachian plant lore. Amelanchier is also the oldest surviving member of the Cullowhee, and the only one with knowledge of the handed down history of her peoples’ origin. A secret she is compelled to keep at all cost.
If you have any interest in backwoods medicine, native American lore, anthropology, forensics and the Blue Ridge/Smokey Mountain region, I highly recommend this parable of modern Appalachia, disguised as a mystery.