Tempe Crabtree

(creator: Marilyn Meredith)

Marilyn Meredith
Tempe Crabtree is resident police deputy at Bear Creek in California. Her grandmother had been a native American, a Yanduchi Indian, and at school she herself had been teased "because of her Indian blood made obvious by her straight black hair, copper skin, and prominent cheek bones.Though surprisingly blue, her eyes were the same almond shape as her grandmother's. She'd been called 'half breed' and 'squaw' by some of the kids. During her growing up years, she'd found little reason for pride in her ancestry." But now, she says, “I don't even think about it."

She had lost her first husband, a highway patrolman, "in the course of duty", but has a 16-year-old son, Blair, who lives with her. In the first book, she is engaged to be married to Pastor Harry Hutchinson. It is no part of her job to do detective work, yet, confronted with a mystery, she “can't help asking questions and trying to figure out exactly what did happen."

Marilyn Meredith is the author of some thirty books, including the Tempe Crabtree series (see below) as well as the Rocky Bluff Police Department series (written under the name of F E Meredith) and other mystery, historical and "Christian horror" books. She was one of the first authors to embrace e-publishing but her books are also available in paperback. She speaks at writing conferences, mystery conventions and festivals, book fairs and the like.

She says she married the "cute sailor" she met on a blind date and they raised 5 children and now have 18 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. She has had many jobs through the years: telephone operator, day care and nursery school teacher, teacher in a pre-school for developmentally disabled children, and, with her "hubby", owner-operator of a licensed residential care home for developmentally disabled adults (for 22 years). She lives in Springville, Southern Sierra, California.

Deadly Trail (2001)
Deadly Trail is described as a prequel to the Tempe Crabtree series. The tranquillity of the village of Bear Creek in the Southern Sierra is disrupted by the suspicious death of the owner of the local inn. Could he have been poisoned? Investigating a murder case isn't Deputy Crabtree's job, but when the detectives don't look any further than her fellow Yanduchi, Nick Two John, as the primary suspect, Tempe begins asking questions. Putting the planning for her wedding to Pastor Hutch Hutchinson on hold (much to his exasperation), it doesn't take long for her to discover there are several more people who wanted the victim dead, including his wife. Tempe follows the trail of clues putting her job, her upcoming marriage and herself in peril.

Unfortunately, despite Tempe managing to get herself knocked out and almost burned to death, it is not a very gripping story and it is difficult to feel really involved. The killer is eventually identified more by good luck than deduction, and it really needs more than the old trick of ending each chapter with some sort of teaser to hold the interest. The way that, at the end, the killer insists on confessing all, even when Tempe tells her, "You don't have to say anything," seems an easy way out.

At the start of the book Tempe "hoped Blair would eventually accept Hutch", but by the end he is urging her to get married, and there is no real explanation of how and why he changes his mind. If Tempe shares any of her future husband's religious convictions, there is no mention of them. So I have only reviewed three of the other books in the series that are listed below:

Deadly Omen (2001)
Deadly Omen tells how a candidate for princess is murdered at a Native American Pow Wow while Tempe is working there in her capacity as deputy. Tempe's investigation takes her into the Yanduchi reservation, and her newly married husband Pastor Hutch has difficulty with Tempe's consequent lack of time for him or her son Blair. She even forgets her son's approaching 18th birthday until, by chance, someone happens to remind her of it.

The Yanduchi background seems to be well researched and remains interesting, as when Tempe observes, "When I was a teenager I was ashamed of my mixed blood. Today everyone is proud to have even the tiniest bit of Indian ancestry." It is Nick Two John who explains, "There are four kinds of Indians … Traditional, Pow Wow, Born Again, and Wannabee ... Traditional is an Indian who remains true to the old ways. A Pow Wow Indian is one whose whole life is caught up in going to Pow Wows. And BornAgain (are those) Indians who mix Christianity with their Indian beliefs." Wannabees are those who just "wannabe be an Indian". The author writes about all this with real understanding and respect.

Unfortunately, the plot isn't sufficiently strong to hold the interest throughout and I found the book quite hard to read. The author is not at her best when describing what should be exciting action sequences which either lack excitement or nearly descend into melodrama as when "Jake lunged towards Daniel, while his wife cried, "Oh, my God! You killed my baby?" Hutch jerked Redwing out of Jake's path. Tempe hurled herself in front of Jake. "That's enough! Take control of yourself, you'll only make matters worse.' Jake halted it with his jaw clenched, his whole body trembling."

Tempe herself "couldn't help speculating" which would be all right if she did not insist on telling us all that she is thinking. Her ongoing rivalry with the two inefficient detectives to whom the case has been assigned seems to matter more to her than her relationship with her husband who understandably complains that she is not there most of the time.
"Wait a minute," she tells him, "that's not fair! I warned you about my job before we ever got married." Anger bubbled inside her.
"It's not your job, I can handle the job. You aren't here even when you are." She really does not make a very good pastor's wife even if "unless she'd had a particularly difficult night, she made it a habit to attend church. Not able to do any of the other minister's wife's duties, she did at least want to make an appearance at the service. Besides she loved to hear Hutch preach."

She eventually apprehends the murderer - but more by sheer chance than by any skill or deduction on her part.

Unequally Yoked (2001)

Wingbeat (2004)

Calling the Dead (2006)

Judgment Fire (2007)
Judgment Fire tells how a battered wife is murdered, and deputy Tempe Crabtree has to discover whether the killer is her abusive husband, their son who hated her, or a neighbor, a woman who had been her high school bully. Or wasn't she even the intended victim? After being warned that Tempe's own life is in danger by Doretha Nightwalker, a Native American shaman, and taking part in a "starlight" ceremony that she is careful not to tell her minister husband about, she remembers her own painful high school days and finds there the clue that she had been seeking.

Despite getting off to a dramatic start when Tempe rescues Doretha from a van in flames just after the pair of them had been thinking of each other ("Our paths were intended to cross," explains Doretha), and the subsequent discovery of a dead body, interest wanes as the story progresses, not helped by the frequent distraction of a lot of very odd spacing in the Kindle edition:

Something like this occurs on very nearly every page of the text, with, for example, a word like "supposed" appearing as "supp osed".

Tempe keeps getting threatening phone messages like "You better mind your own business, Deputy Crabtree, or you'll be sorry," but after a time, this starts to get too predictable. Tempe's police duties and her Indian heritage make it hard for Hutch "to be able to completely enter Tempe's world", and, however sympathetic to Indian customs the author is, it still seems rather odd when Tempe, dressed in "a simple Indian dress" and clad in leather moccasins, literally dances to Doretha's drum then, as instructed, lies down and looks at the stars until "she was no longer aware of anything but the vastness of the universe and her soul."

In the end she gets involved in what she knows is likely to be a trap ("If I had good sense, I wouldn't go in" to an abandoned house), but she is prepared to sacrifice all for the sake of the plot so that the arch criminal may be revealed. I did not find it all that convincing.

Kindred Spirits (2008)

Dispel the Mist (2009)

Invisible Path (2010)

Bears With Us (2011)
Bears With Us sees police deputy Tempe Crabtree as busy as ever when hungry bears (rather too many of them to be totally convincing) turn up in and around her town, becoming a threat to residents. Then an elderly woman is horrifically killed. But are bears really responsible, or is there something else afoot? Tempe faces up to fearsome bears, fearful townspeople, and a demented old woman who '"jumps in and out of reality", and also has to find time to deal with a teenage suicide, and a aggresssive mother who doesn't like the idea of her fifteen year old daughter going out with a Latino boy. The eventual solution to this particular problem turns out to be distinctly novelettish.

However, it makes quite an interesting story and the fact that Tempe is kept so busy makes her situation seem quite realistic. Her pastor husband, on the other hand, seems to have plenty of time to accompany her on her adventures which gives him the chance to offer numerous prayers for her safety. He doesn't seem to do much pastoral work but does occasionally take time off to write a sermon: "I need to pray first," he explains, "and find out what message the Lord would like me to bring to the congregation. I need to concentrate on the Bible passages he is leading me to and do some studying." He is an amiable if not entirely convincing clergyman. When Tempe solemnly asks him, "Do animals have souls?", he tells her, "Not sure what the answer is, but I do know God made all the animals just like he made us. Of course he cares about bears." He is no master theologian.

The idea for a story involving bears apparently came from the author's own grandson who had told her about some of his experiences with them as a police officer. In the end, we too get told quite a lot about them, as when Tempe delivers a lecture on the subject to a local women's group and offers them advice on how to keep their homes safe. As she tells them, "The first rule to avoid conflict with bears is not to attract one". There follows much detailed advice such as, "Deodorise your trash cans with bleach. Double-bagging your garbage might help. Keep your garbage cans inside until pick-up day or when you take them to the dump. Keep your barbecue grills clean. If you feed your pets outside, put the food away at night…" And so it goes on. The author has obviously done her research, and is determined not to waste any of it.

Tempe certainly has adventures and shows considerable skill and courage, but she is not really much of a detective. Still, it makes an amusing story with some quite exciting parts (as when Tempe is inside a house when it is attacked although, later on, when she has to confront a murderer brandishing a knife, it sounds a bit over the top, as is the attempt to run her over which seems distinctly corny). But it is quite fun to read in a gossipy sort of way.

Raging Water (2012)

The author has her own website and blog, and there are brief interviews with her on the Blogcritics and M M Gornell sites.

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Deadly Trail cover
The cover is rather more dramatic than the content.
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