Book Review for “By the Rivers of Babylon” by Mary Glickman.
Summary: “Joe and Abigail Becker, a Jewish couple from Boston, have inherited a house on Sweetgrass Island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Though they feel like fish out of water, the couple is excited to give the South a try–and maybe even find it a place to finally call home. Their Boston friends are convinced they won’t last the summer. But the South works its magic on the Beckers, holding them fast to misty marsh, farmlands, and grand oaks, the sweet twang of banjos and the blues. Even the locals have put aside their usual mistrust of transplants. Joe is convinced that has more to do with Abigail’s beauty than with his dubious charms–especially in the case of Billy Euston. A celebrated pit master and womanizer, Billy is transfixed with Abigail at first sight. And though Joe is used to his lovely wife’s effect on men, he misjudges their playful flirtations–a tragic mistake that will tear through the island like a hurricane, leaving the broken and the battered in its wake . . .”
Age: Adult; Genres: Murder Mystery, Fiction; Settings: Era/s: Contemporary; Location/s: USA – South Carolina – Sweetgrass Island (fictional); Other Categories: Novel, Jewish, Southern, Amateur Sleuth, Family Life, Antisemitism.
It has been a while since I read any of Glickman’s books, so when she asked me if I wanted to read her latest, I automatically agreed! Strangely enough, I must admit that what I got wasn’t all that close to the previous books she’s written. First of all, this isn’t historical, it is contemporary. Next, I was expecting more Jewish aspects than I got here, especially as the theme of bucking antisemitism is a theme in the other books I’ve read by Glickman. Despite how this book began – which was a family life, cum “fish out of water” type story – it turns into an amateur sleuth, mystery novel around half way through. Well, I certainly didn’t see that coming! Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because being strangers to an insular community, and then having a dead body pop up where the newcomer tries to solve the crime can have all sorts of great plot twists and ramifications. Especially when the newbies are already suspect because they’re Jews in South Carolina!
I should probably say that some of the aspects of this small place might be considered by South Carolinians as trying a bit too hard to debunk some stereotyped. For example, anyone who knows any American history will recall that this is the state where the Civil War essentially started (if you don’t know, look up Fort Sumter), and today their elected officials are staunchly conservative Republicans (except for one notable Democrat congressman). So, the idea that this location could have liberal leaning attitudes, such as ignoring inter-racial couples, or being appalled when someone starts spouting antisemitic tirades, might seem like anomalies. However, when this book takes place (not all that long ago), I think the region leaned more inclusive than it does today. Obviously, my own prejudices came into play here, and I’m guessing that Glickman knows more than I do about these types of SC communities.
Needless to say, I wouldn’t have agreed to read this if I didn’t already enjoy Glickman’s writing, and this certainly lived up to my expectations. In fact, I feel that the more modern setting allowed Glickman to have a looser, freer style with her descriptions and dialogue than I’d previously experienced. For me, I felt that Glickman was more comfortable with the narrative flow of this book, where her historical ones sometimes had a more stilted feeling to them. I might even hazard a guess that Glickman had more fun with this novel than she did with the two I’d already read, because that’s how it felt to me. Not that there aren’t some pretty serious things going on here, including substance abuse, adultery, and even some uncomfortable situations that lead to certain levels of threats and violence. And yet, there’s still warmth here, and a level of understanding among the locals regarding their new neighbors, that helps the Beckers in their efforts to fit in, while the Beckers learn more about them. That said, I didn’t feel quite the level of emotional connection to any particular character here that I was hoping for, and that is the only drawback of this book.
I know I might be sounding like a bit of a broken record here, but I also feel that this novel has a great deal of the “coming of age” feel to it, as well as all the other elements. This may sound like this is a very complex story, but I can assure you it is actually pretty straight forward. Mind you, some of the characters aren’t all what they seem when we first meet them, and that includes the Beckers. Getting to know them all was what was most enjoyable in this book, and I also liked how Glickman solved the mystery. Yes, this really is an interesting novel, and not at all what I was expecting from Glickman. It shows a level of versatility that I hadn’t seen before, and that’s always a good thing. For all this, I think I can warmly recommend it with a solid four stars out of five.
Open Road Media released “By the Rivers of Babylon” by Mary Glickman on February 7, 2023. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell’s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the author publishers for sending me an eARC of this novel.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#5).
3 thoughts on “Sweetgrass Mystery.”
I haven’t read any of this author’s books either, but I like the sound of this one. Thanks for your review!
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I haven’t read any of this author’s books, but your review is terrific and has definitely made me interested. Off to check the library…
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