(17. – 904.) Hang Down Your Head by Janice MacDonald – Miranda “Randy” Craig, with her Master’s Degree in English has usually been limited to sessional teaching positions in Edmonton. Her life changes when an “enormous” anonymous bequest is made to the University of Alberta designated for its Folkways Collection.
That collection includes the only “fully set of Moses Asch’s legendary recordings”:
One of the great visionaries for the preservation of world music, poetry and soundscapes, Moses Asch had been so impressed with the Edmonton music scene every time he visited that he willed his personal collection to the university.
America’s Smithsonian Institute had been surprised, even chagrined, that it did not have the full Asch collection. A relationship was soon established between the Smithsonian and the U of A.
Dreams of building a fully searchable database of the Asch collection in Edmonton suddenly became feasible with the bequest.
Though not a music scholar folk music is a passion of Randy. She was ready when:
The call went out for people skilled in online writing, with an understanding of university policy and project work and strong communication qualifications. Teaching English, writing magazine articles and monitoring chat rooms had to come in handy somehow, and after a process of three vigorous interviews and the inspired admission that I played the banjo, I was offered the continuity and writing position.
(Were it not for the combination of the position being fictional and that she is already a professor I could see my friend, Margot Kinberg, of the blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, being perfectly qualified for the position.)
Unfortunately, her dream job is threatened by a nasty sibling duo, David and Barbara Finster, who are outraged that their late mother has made such a huge bequest for folk music. It is a puzzle to Randy why they should resent folk music. In a public scene at the Folkways Centre David makes it loudly clear the bequest will be challenged.
David, the owner of a major construction business, and Barbara, with a pair of high end ladies apparel stores, are wealthy and bitter.
Before Randy can even assess the risks presented by the Finster duo David is murdered on the edge of campus. Worse yet:
…. Finster’s body was deliberately staged. He’d been stabbed, strung up from a beam, and a note was hanging from the handle of the knife still sticking it him. It said, HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD.
The inescapable reference to the Tom Dooley folk song focuses police attention on the Folkways Project and Finster.
Randy’s lover, Edmonton Police detective Steve Downing, is a part of the investigation, though not the lead because of Randy. Still it leads to uncomfortable moments in their relationship.
Randy, though well aware of the never ending fierce intra-university battles for project funding, cannot see who at the university would have wanted to kill Finster and implicate the Folkways Project. Or can it be that murder lurks in the hearts of folkies?
In the midst of a mid-summer Edmonton heat wave the investigation is accelerated when there is further violence.
One of the major tasks for Randy is to assist in an ambitious taping project of the folkwaysAlive! stage at the Edmonton Folk Festival.
Handsome and brilliant and charming Dr. Woody Dowling arrives from the Smithsonian to be the institutional link for the festival. Randy loves Steve but finds Woody intriguing.
The story culminates at the massive Folk Festival. MacDonald provides a vivid portrayal of the fun of the Festival. From sitting on tarps on ski runs providing a natural amhiteathre through quality festival food folk there is a wonderful atmoshphere for folk music fans.
I liked the book but the narrative slowed at times. The book is at its best in discussing folk music and artists and the Festival. It is not a strong mystery. You will want to attend the Edmonton Folk Festival after reading Hang Down Your Head.