A mystery series must have a strong protagonist. For Judy Hogan’s Penny Weaver series, that’s a middle-aged poet/teacher and activist who marries a Welsh police officer and moves back and forth between a Welsh village and rural North Carolina.
In the latest book, Nuclear Apples?, Penny remains the point-of-view character, but the real protagonist is the diverse community of activists fighting dangerous practices in a local nuclear power plant.
Almost anyone who has taught has seen a class take on a collective personality without submerging the individuals. The author shows this same collective personality in her activists, who include a toddler eager to break all his parent’s rules on healthy eating, teenagers finding love in an apple orchard, and an ingenious deputy determined to protect the activists during demonstrations.
The collective and individual personalities stand out in scenes in which they gather to plan—and to eat. Writing a scene that the reader follows without pause is easy when you have only two or three people. Portraying a group of people sharing a meal takes considerable skill. Picture those grand Downton Abbey meals where the camera shows a wide shot and then focuses on speakers in turn in a seamless scene. The author accomplishes the same feat without visual aids.
She gives a cast list at the beginning, and I groaned in anticipation of having to refer back to it to keep so many people straight. To my surprise, I didn’t. Several times I had to stop to think which wife went with which husband, and I lost track of who was older or younger and who was black or white. But that’s part of the point. It doesn’t matter.
The most memorable interactions are those between family members caught up in personal crises as they link lives to fight for the community. Penny stays in the middle of it all.
Nuclear Apples? is available in Kindle and print editions.