The Paper Route
By Jacqueline Cayer Nelson McDonald
Reviewed by Richard Howe
When asked to list my favorite activities, reading would be near the top. Because history would also be high on that list, most of the books I read are nonfiction. But every so often I pick up a work of fiction and am reminded why that category is so popular. That happened again when I read the recently published, set-in-Lowell murder mystery called The Paper Route by Jacqueline Cayer Nelson McDonald.
Set in Centralville in the early 1960s, the book follows the adventures of Jackie, a precocious yet rough-around-the-edges grammar school student who has the biggest paper route in Lowell and comes from a sweet, loving family that is touched by tragedy. Jackie has an intense curiosity about people and circumstances that tends to put her in harm’s way but also brings her into contact with helpful allies like police detective Dennis Dahm, who is also a central character in the book. (And with the fictional Dahm also married to Jack Kerouac’s sister, the famous Lowell writer makes a couple of more-than-cameo appearances).
Paper Route oozes Lowell from the names of streets, characters, and places to the way people dress, talk and behave. The authenticity makes it clear that the author emerged from the city (which she did) and didn’t just immerse herself in research from the outside.
Like any good mystery, Paper Route features strong characters, a complex plot, moments of tension and misdirection while also providing an ethnographic account of life in Lowell’s French-Canadian community of 50 years ago. Best of all, the book’s ending invites a sequel. I can’t wait for that.
The Paper Route is available in paperback or on Kindle.
CASA GRANDE -- A newspaper delivery girl is the central character in a murder mystery written by a Casa Grande woman. In “The Paper Route,” Jacqueline Cayer Nelson McDonald tells the fictional story of a young girl who, in the course of her daily delivery of the newspaper, unwittingly discovers information relevant to an on-going murder investigation. “Part-truant, part mystic, the paper girl can tell good people from bad at a glance,” McDonald said. “Compelled to undo a reported injustice, she seeks out and shares her insights with the childless and charmed case detective. Together, they solve two murders and inadvertently trigger another.” McDonald said that while the novel is fiction, it’s about “one-fifth autobiographical and four-fifths imaginary.” “It’s a murder mystery wrapped up in a Canuck family saga,” she said. “It moves from a mid-century, mill town in New England to Beat Generation Greenwich Village, NYC.” Some of the characters in the book were inspired by people on her family tree. “Characters such as the gallant Detective Dahm and the criminals he collars are entirely fictional,” she said. Since offering the book for sale on Amazon, McDonald said she’s already had some feedback, including from one person who said the main character was reminiscent to Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “The only negative comments I’ve received about the main character is her abrupt disappearance at the end of the story. Many have demanded to know what happened to her. A sequel is in the making,” McDonald said. She hopes readers enjoy the book as well as its details and symbolism. 7/17/2021 CG resident's new book focuses on a paper delivery girl. “I hope to give my readers characters that will stay with them and a story that intrigues them,” she said. “I’d like readers to know that I tried to make every detail relevant and/or revelatory. For instance, Jackie’s unloved doll, Christine’s packaging and clothing are symbolic of her tragically ill mother. There are many such examples of purposeful, descriptive detail that, I hope, upon reflection, will provide my readers with aha-moments.” McDonald, who moved to Casa Grande in September to be closer to her grandchildren, took about 18 months to write the novel. “In between, life happened,” she said. “Our new grandson was born and my husband and I traveled from Florida to Tucson to take care of his big sister while her mom and dad welcomed baby brother.” The process involved research that she fit in with other life events. “I studied textile processing while writing the mill scenes. I read about the late, great fellow Lowellian Jack Kerouac and his Greenwich Village, NY haunts and entourage,” she said. McDonald was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, a mill town. She lived a few homes over from where he did. “We were Canucks, not fans, not players, just low-brow French-English speakers,” she said. “Like Mr. Kerouac, I was and remain enamored of the written word. Unlike him, I’ve been an ordinary writer — high-school editor for the Lowell Sun newspaper, TV reporter for the Lowell Sun, freelance magazine article writer, commercial newsletter writer in the electronics and telecommunications industries, professional technical writer and unheralded children’s book author.” She is retired from a career in marketing. McDonald said she feels grateful for having finished the book. “I feel grateful to my husband, Grant, for his patience while I had my nose in my computer and to my eldest daughter, Elizabeth, for her talented and fastidious editing,” she said “And to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for everything good thing in my life.” She also feels encouraged to continue writing.Melissa St Aude Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at email@example.com. McDonald recently attended a Zoom meeting in which “The Paper Route” was discussed by readers. She hopes to do more events including book signings and speaking to book clubs. “Readers of the Dracut Diamond Book Club were so insightful and engaging,” she said. “One of them, I learned, is a teacher who said she uses my book in her high school creative writing class to demonstrate to her students how to develop empathetic characters and use misdirection in mystery. I was so honored to hear that.” “The Paper Route” may be purchased in digital format and in paperback online at Amazon.