Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Storylines from the Past Offer Lifelines Too

by Kay Kendall

“I tried so hard to sleep last night, but kept getting up to read more of Kay Kendall's DESOLATION ROW. It resonates powerfully in these troubled times . . . .”

So begins the newest reader comment on Amazon about one of my mysteries. Of course any laudatory review is a pleasure for an author to read about one of her book babies. However, while I was thrilled to see five stars, I was surprised to see an emotion expressed about reading my fiction that I never expected.

The reviewer concluded a personal email to me by saying, “I realized that the ideas/ideals are as compelling as the plot in your books, just what we need right now.”
I write historical murder mysteries, and my chosen time period is the turbulent era of the 1960s. Back in 2012 when I finished writing DESOLATION ROW and then when it debuted in 2013, I had hoped that setting my first book in a fraught time of extreme unrest would be interesting. I thought it would help readers of the baby boom generation remember their salad days and younger readers might read and learn what it was like. The plot is fiction. The background is not. DESOLATION ROW looks at the consequences of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and personal outcomes from military service. In RAINY DAY WOMEN published in 2015, I explore the hopes for female improvement held by early members of the women’s liberation movement.
One reason I write about that time period is to describe its importance to those who know nothing about it. Reading fiction is an easy way to learn about history.
After both my mysteries were in print, I spoke to classes at a community college in Alabama. Only two in one hundred students knew about Bob Dylan—my book titles come from his songs. Moreover, none of them knew why the United States was drawn into fighting a war in Vietnam. And none of them had ever heard of the “domino theory.”
Another reason I write about the 1960s is to commemorate and revivify a part of American history that has had far reaching effects. Societal upheaval was so intense in the 1960s that the aftershocks still are felt today. Until very recently, that past seemed dead and buried.
Yet only two years since I spoke to those Alabama students and right now, right now the 1960s have gained new relevance. The era is evoked often on television news stations. Old battles are being fought again in the streets of America. And readers are telling me that my books bring them hope.

After all, they say, If we Americans got through such troubled domestic times once, we can do so again. But hang on, dear readers, we may be in for a long and bumpy ride.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN here! 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Visit Kay at


  1. It does seem that the right book often finds one at just the right time, and a bit of lost sleep is a fair trade for a reminder of hope. Thanks again (and happy to repay in small measure with a review ;-) Good wins -- always -- if we just keep on working, and our past actions inspire future work.
    I used to keep my activist past a bit quiet, but students picked up on it anyway, and would sometimes ask strategic questions as they planned or reported on their own actions. One of my favorite students called her friends to counter-demo and outnumber a "Mexicans go home" rally on Cinco de Mayo on Mexico Road -- really! I was so proud of her. <3
    I once said, when my sophomores were reading NIGHT, that I would hope I would be brave enough to hide those in danger, but that no one could be sure until faced with the decision and the dangers. A student studied me for a minute, then declared, "Oh, yes . . . YOU would." I thanked her for having faith in me . . . and hoped never to have to find out.

  2. I know you are right, Mary. We think we know what we would do and often criticize people who we think did not act right in the past. But until we are in that situation, we never know what we would do. Sometimes we get to make a choice similar to ones in the past. Reading history gives me courage and perspective. President Truman for example never went to college but he read biographies of great men. So did President Washington. Truman led troops into WWI battles and his men revered him. We don't have to fight in wars to show that we have courage and can act to protect others from harm.

  3. —————————————————————————————————————————————–
    I have to blame author Kay Kendall, author of ” DESOLATION ROW’ for the sleepless night I had, so that I could finish reading her novel. I just couldn’t stop reading until I discovered “Who Did It?” so to speak. The genres for “DESOLATION ROW’ are Mystery, Fiction, and in my opinion, Historical Fiction. This novel brought me back to the end of the sixties, and reminded me of so many things.
    The year is 1968, and you are living in a foreign country that is supposed to be friendly to Americans. Although the times are turbulent and there is a lot of tension. Many American citizens have come to Canada as Draft Resistors for different reasons. Even within the resistors are factions that are split on how to handle the protests. The war in Vietnam is not like any war in history. Then you have a different political agenda, that of older men that fought during World War Two, and were proud to fight for America.
    Now, can you imagine that your nerdy, kind, gentle husband is arrested on suspicion of murder? You really can’t afford an attorney. You don’t have much of a support system. Your parents are in Texas, and not pleased at all that you left with your husband to go to Canada. Well, meet Austin Starr, a 22 young married student who came to Canada with her husband, who was her college boyfriend. Austin seems to have a major problem.
    The author describes the characters as complex and complicated. Some characters are angry, unbalanced, jealous, have strong convictions, and some characters have secrets important to protect. There are a number of characters who could be suspect in murdering a Draft Resistor that was not really well liked. What is the motivation and why?
    Austin turns to her Russian Professor and his daughter for help in finding who the “real killer is. Visiting her husband in the desolate jail spurs her on to look for clues.There are twists and turns and threats and danger. Then there is another murder.
    I appreciate the way Kay Kendall describes the history, the characters, and the intriguing plot. Having lived during this era, I felt like I was revisiting the past. There is the discussion of corrupt politicians, and the upcoming election, when Richard Nixon was running for president.
    The author also discusses how any war changes the lives of the people who come home and their families. To quote Kay Kendall,” While the past was set in stone the future was framed by hope and possibility.” The author describes the importance of family, peace love, hope and faith.
    I really tried to follow the clues, but I was surprised to find who the murderer is.
    I highly recommend this intriguing and thought-provoking novel for readers who have a passion for life in the sixties and for anyone who loves a mystery with suspense and intrigue. I received a copy for my honest opinion.

  4. I am so happy you enjoyed my mystery, Linda. You have a wonderful book blog for readers. Thank you for including my two mysteries.