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If I Had a Hammer (Swinging Sixties Mystery, #2) by Teresa Trent 

A puzzling small-town mystery set during the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. 

The world changed in late November 1963 when the president was assassinated before thousands of onlookers. Dot Morgan and her cousin Ellie were right there on the side of the road when the shots rang out, and the motorcade streaked frantically away. They would never be the same either, eyewitnesses to a terrible moment in history. 

In shock, the women returned to their small hometown of Camden, Texas, and tried to pick up where they had left off before their fateful trip: Ellie to her dress shop and Dot to her secretarial job at Gibson Construction. As Ellie began questioning her life and engagement to long-time beau, Al Maxwell, Dot tried to do her best to please the worst boss ever, the favorite son of the company’s founder, Jimmy Gibson. 

Jimmy was ill-tempered and blamed his step-brother, Milton, or Dot, for anything that went wrong. The latest contretemps between the brothers was over a new strip center Jimmy planned to build. But in the middle of demolishing one of the old existing structures, Milton suddenly stumbled out of the building, dazed and confused, narrowly escaping being crushed. Injured by falling debris, Milton was taken to the hospital and kept overnight for observation. However, before anyone can find out how he ended up inside the building being demolished, Milton inexplicably checks himself out of the hospital and vanishes, leaving behind his wife and young son. 

Dot and her friend, Officer Mary Oliva of the Camden Police Department, track Milton to the Greyhound station and discover he’s taken a bus to Colorado. However, he only makes it to a diner about an hour away when he fails to return to the bus after a quick break, vanishing once again. When the male officers assigned to the case disregard their information, Dot and Mary investigate on their own. 

If I Had a Hammer is the second book in author Teresa Trent’s nostalgia-inducing Swinging Sixties Mystery series. It is a miracle of a throwback to a different time and place. Dot is a determined and plucky heroine, operating within the confines of the times before women’s lib or even the summer of love, and she and her friends are questioning those constraints. 

Dot is fearless in her pursuit of answers, especially in the face of so much male superiority and constant brushoffs. She’s repeatedly threatened and told to mind her own business, but she doesn’t back down. She perseveres in her horribly hostile work environment because she knows the hit her resume will take would be devastating to finding another job. She’s cautious toward her potential love interest, reported Ben Dalton, unsure of his true interest. Is it for herself or for the insider information she has as a witness to certain events that keeps him coming around? 

The plot gets more complicated as the body count rises, alibis fall apart, and a major suspect ends up dead. The resolution ultimately surprised me; I never believed the final culprit would be the guilty party. My favorite aspect of the story was the attention to period details that replicated the atmosphere of the early ‘60s. The dialogue perfectly reflected the attitudes of the time, and even the main character’s inner monologue aligned. I felt transported back in time. 

With its likable main character and moodily recreated time period, I recommend IF I HAD A HAMMER to readers who enjoy historical mysteries, stories concurrent with the JFK assassination, or settings in small-town Texas. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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