Since You Went Away by Frankie Y. Bailey
“Since You Went Away” is a locked-room style mystery set on a train in-route from New Orleans to Chicago in 1946. Set just after the end of World War II, the story captures the whirlwind that existed for people during that time. The military was demobilizing troops, people were dealing with the losses that occurred in the war and a country was trying to return to the way life was before the war.
We start out in the home of Lizzie Stuart and her husband Quinn. Lizzie Stuart is the sleuth in Frankie Bailey’s Lizzie Stuart Mystery series. Lizzie mentions that her grandfather solved a mystery on a train and Quinn must hear the full story. So, Lizzie tells the story.
The sleuth of the mystery is Lizzie’s grandfather, Walter Lee Stuart, a porter on the train. Walter is Black and the passengers are white. This is a key point since it is his ability to be present but not seen and his need to observe the passengers to attend to their needs that makes him the perfect person to solve the murder. The story has a vibrant cast of characters. A major returning from the war, a widow and her child taking her dead husband to his hometown to be buried, a vibrant young woman named Ruby with her boyfriend who is paying for the trip, a reverend and his wife, a schoolteacher, and a cartoonist.
The train ride starts up and we learn more about the passengers through the observations of Walter Stuart and soon the passengers retire to their rooms to sleep. Suddenly the train comes to an abrupt stop. Ruby is dead and her boyfriend is accusing a member of the train’s staff. A Black man named Zach. Through deduction and observation, Walter Stuart along with the help of one of the passengers, figures out who the real murder is and sets a trap.
Besides being a fun and clever mystery, Frankie Bailey does a wonderful job of capturing this moment in time. Bailey does not shy away from showing the casual bigotry and hostility of some white passengers along with the fact that there were white people who did not participate in this hateful behavior. Bailey also captures the pain and disruption the war caused in the lives of some of the passengers.
I loved the way that Walter Stuart was portrayed. A gifted man with superior deductive reasoning and observational skills who had to weave his way through a world that did not want to see those traits in a Black man.
You can find this short story in the “Shades of Black” anthology. Edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland.