I had originally picked up Kristin Gore's SWEET JIMINY under the mistaken assumption that it was a gothic mystery along the lines of, say, CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin. It's not; indeed, it's closer in spirit to a coming-of-age novel, with mystery as an important element though not the heart of the plot. Taken on its own merits, though, the book is a worthwhile read that is made so by Gore's turns of phrase.
Jiminy Davis is a second-year law student, who is in the middle of a plum summer job as an associate with a Chicago law firm. Then she abruptly quits both the job and school after going through the contemporary equivalent of what Saul experienced on the road to Damascus. Jiminy leaves Chicago, embarking on a quietly hilarious bus ride to her grandmother's home in Fayeville, Mississippi. The apparently languid quiet of Fayeville matches her childhood memories, but the adult Jiminy is able to pick up the subtle tensions that now manifest themselves. The root of these, both directly and indirectly, lies with the namesake she never knew she had --- a Jiminy who was the daughter of Lyn, the longtime housekeeper for Jiminy's grandmother. Along with Lyn's husband, she had been murdered decades before, an incident still shrouded in mystery but that continues to influence events to the present day.
Lyn's nephew, Bo, a medical student, is also in Fayeville for the summer, and his incidental meeting with Jiminy not only inspires her to solve the long-unsolved murders but also lights a small spark inside her, one that is neither encouraged nor tolerated in their deceptively quiet Mississippi community. Jiminy, however, is undaunted and recruits an attorney who specializes in reopening unsolved civil rights-era murders, an action that earns her the enmity of the powers-that-be in the area, threatens to turn an important election upside down, and --- most significantly for Jiminy --- exposes a secret that Lyn has lived with, to her sorrow, for decades.
SWEET JIMINY is not a doorstop book, but Gore uses an economy of prose to maximum effect by showing more than telling throughout the narrative. Those familiar with Gore exclusively through her forays into television scripting for such shows as "Futurama" and "Saturday Night Live" will find her humor much more subtle within these pages and, in at least one case, possibly unintentionally (a passage wherein Jiminy wonders how the editors of The Farmers' Almanac could predict the weather an entire 10 months in advance). And, while the solution to the mystery telegraphs itself early on and is somewhat predictable, it must be remembered that SWEET JIMINY is not a mystery, nor does it actively pretend to be one. Gore's prose and a satisfying ending make this one a winner.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 16, 2011