Historical Fiction Spotlight: When I Last Saw You

Guest review written by Lynne Spreen

When I Last Saw You

Paperback, 358 pages

Published May 4th 2021 by Bent Pine Publishing Corp

Written by Bette Lee Crosby

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Margaret, in her late 60s, is recently widowed. When going through her husband’s files, she finds a receipt from a private detective. She calls him and finds out that he did some work for her late husband, years ago, trying to uncover the truth of Margaret’s childhood. Margaret hires Tom to get back on the case, because she wants to know the truth, finally. Why did her large family break up? Why did their mother send the children away?

Although Tom is retired, he’s intrigued. After a bitter divorce, he doesn’t have that much going on in his life, so agrees to investigate, spending many hours talking with Margaret about her family, trying to get leads. He sets out on the road, but after his initial foray, asks her to fly in and join him. She agrees, and they begin their search together. As they drive around the South, investigating (it’s set in 1968, so there’s no Google), they grow close.

As they return to Margaret’s roots, another story begins to unfold in parallel: that of Eliza, Margaret’s mother, and the early years of the family, before all the children were sent to live away from their mother. Dirt poor, living in a shack in West Virginia coal country, Eliza is married to the brutal, selfish Martin. He gets a job in town, leaving her to raise their ever-growing brood in desperate poverty while he lives well and has other women to entertain him. Eliza is a good woman, and the children are loved. Martin visits occasionally, keeping Eliza pregnant and the children frightened.

As Margaret travels with Tom and begins to learn what happened to her family, she is also learning about herself, coming to understand the cost of the life-changing concessions she made to her late husband. Will she finally, now, prioritize herself and seize happiness? Is it too late?

When I Last Saw You is a beautiful story, richly detailed, with characters who stayed with me after I finished the book. Highly recommended.

Review reposted from Goodreads with permission. Lynne Spreen writes midlife fiction and romance, because she believes life after 50 is a rich, untapped literary vein of human drama.  You can follow her reviews on Goodreads and learn about her Dakota Blues book series on her website.

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