These are the complete reviews of Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial from Feathered Quill Book Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, Reader Views and US Review of Books.
Feathered Quill Book Reviews (by Lynette Latzko):
In the late 1970’s, Jonah Neumeyer, a young lawyer in Chicago, decides to return to the small farm town he grew up in, Revere, Illinois, to get answers about a horrific event that occurred twenty years prior when he was a child. Jonah and his grandmother witnessed a fire that burnt a house down with the occupants, two elderly men, still inside. He believed the only person who could provide the best answers to what exactly happened was Elizabeth Daleiden, the nearest neighbor to the burning house and the woman who inherited the farm that the men owned. What Jonah Neumeyer didn’t know was that by paying a visit to Elizabeth, he would stir up a past long thought to be solved and put to rest, and attract the attention of several notable people, Olivia Daleiden, former mother-in-law to Elizabeth Daleiden, and Tanner Howland, a state’s attorney with political ambitions.
Truths and lies swirl together as the past is dug up and resurrected turning into serious accusations, and Elizabeth finds herself directly in the center of this and is accused of, and indicted for, being a part in the deaths of the two men. She faces not only imprisonment, but loss of the farm that has been in her family for generations.
Feeling partly responsible for innocently inquiring about the past, Jonah, who firmly believes Elizabeth is innocent, offers to help Elizabeth and her son, Eli, with their farming duties while Elizabeth and her lawyer prepare for this difficult trial. Meanwhile as time goes on, tongues continue to wag and more information is uncovered relating to two other supposedly mysterious deaths in Elizabeth’s past, her father and husband, leading people to wonder if she was also involved in their deaths.
As the story continues to unfold during the court proceedings, secrets are uncovered and testimony is heard that strongly points to Elizabeth’s complete culpability in not one, but all the deaths, forcing Elizabeth to do the only thing left that may stop her from going to jail. She must take the stand and testify in hopes that the jury will believe her versions of exactly what happened in each of the four deaths.
Readers are advised to pay careful attention to the list of characters in the beginning of the book since they may need to reference this list often as there are a plethora of characters, some with equal importance and strong personalities vying for the reader’s attention, while others merely float in for a few scenes. There are also a few parts in this story where the author takes a bit of artistic license with a few aspects of the plot, but this does not have an overall negative impact preventing readers from enjoying this novel.
Author Ron Fritsch has succeeded in crafting a dramatic story that hooks readers right from the beginning when they first learn about the person in the title of the book, Elizabeth Daleiden, and how she’s connected to a house fire twenty years prior. As time moves on, key characters are introduced, setting the stage for what the reader may believe is a typical crime drama, but surprise twists reveal a more complex plot that is coupled with issues of homophobia and small-town mentality.
Quill says: Ron Fritsch provides his readers with a page-turning courtroom drama filled with unpredictable plot twists that will entertain fans of the genre.
Fritsch’s historical legal drama reveals the seamy underbelly of a small Illinois farming community.
Jonah Neumeyer, a young gay lawyer living in Chicago in 1977, was 6 years old in 1955 when he witnessed a traumatic house fire in Revere, Illinois, that apparently killed two elderly men. He’s remembered a comment from one of the onlookers ever since, as the charred bodies were brought out by the firemen: “Those two old queers got what they deserved.” Now Jonah has returned to his hometown to find out if that fire was set intentionally. The first step is to speak with the recently widowed Elizabeth Daleiden, who lived in the neighboring house—and who inherited the men’s farm after their deaths. Jonah believes that Elizabeth is hiding something, but he doesn’t anticipate that their conversation will get back to Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Olivia Daleiden, a nasty, vengeful woman who accuses her of murdering not only the two men, but also Elizabeth’s father in 1950. Somewhat improbably, the Concord County state’s attorney, Tanner Howland, smells the potential for a big-trial victory that will propel his political ambitions; he successfully obtains indictments, and the stage is set for Elizabeth’s takedown. As the unorthodox trial proceeds—with witnesses allowed to expound endlessly without objection—it reveals a veritable Peyton Place of back stories, in which everyone in Revere seems to have connections with everyone else. Fritsch saddles himself with an ambitious task by jumping into the well-trod territory of courtroom dramas. However, the trial is only a vehicle for his examination of small-town
prejudices, especially regarding gays and lesbians. He kindly provides a list of characters upfront so readers can keep track of them all, and some of the walk-on players are engaging. That said, most of the real character development is limited to Jonah and Elizabeth; the rest of the players are mostly just divided into good guys or bad. Still, the action moves quickly, and there are enough surprises to keep readers hooked to the end.
Big-city life has nothing on small-town shenanigans in this often enjoyable read with a serious message.
Reader Views (by Paige Lovitt):
The drama of “Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial” by Ron Fritsch takes off with a state attorney dredging up the past by charging Elizabeth Daleiden, a local widowed farmer, with three deaths that occurred over twenty years ago. The first murder charge is based on the death of her father who died in his bed, supposedly while drunk. The second two were of Elizabeth’s beloved neighbors Henry and Titus, who willed their land to her. Elizabeth insists that she is innocent; however, it is obvious that she knows more about all of the deaths than she is letting on.
Jonah Neumeyer, a former neighbor of Elizabeth has a lot of questions to ask about Henry and Titus’s death because he was present when their home burned down and took their lives. He remembers people making comments about the men dying because they were “queer.” As a twenty- eight-year-old man, he wants to find out what really happened because he suspects they were killed because of their sexual orientation. It is his interest that brings this case back into focus. Jonah regrets bringing this kind of drama into Elizabeth and her son Eli’s lives and does his best to try to make up for it by helping them out at the farm. This also gives him a chance to develop a deeper relationship with Eli.
Elizabeth quickly discovers who is loyal who is out to get her. Unfortunately, her cold, bitter mother-in-law is on the latter list. Elizabeth fears for the worst because she will have to convince the jury of her innocence based mainly upon her testimony. Knowing that Eli is with Jonah helps give her peace. She also has a strong attorney fighting to help her and a friend from the past steps in with evidence to help support her statements. The novel keeps the reader tense until the very end when all is revealed.
I enjoyed reading “Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial” by Ron Fritsch. The plot was unique, and there were twists and turns in the story, that kept it interesting throughout. The courtroom scenes build tension, keeping the pages turning quickly. Having the murders take place in the 1950s and the trial in the 1970s kept the plot from being able to use modern forensic evidence and the Internet for research. This was a refreshing change because it seemed more realistic for the times. The characters were also well developed, while most of them were not too complex. Elizabeth’s mother- in-law was evil in a way that made her the perfect stereotype for a wicked mother-in-law. Some of her statements were completely outrageous, adding even more dimension to the drama. Readers of LGBTQ fiction and others who like a good mystery will enjoy this novel.
US Review of Books (by Donna Ford):
“‘Elizabeth Daleiden had to know, better than anybody else, what happened the night Henry and Titus died in the fire that destroyed their house.'”
“With his simple statement, Jonah resurrects the question he has been asking himself since a child of six, watching the fire near his grandmother’s farm and listening to the hateful remarks of locals. Did someone deliberately set the fire to rid the town of two old homosexuals? Elizabeth was the nearest neighbor and would have seen a mob entering. Without hesitation she assures Jonah, now a Chicago lawyer, that the fire was an accident.
“When Elizabeth’s mother-in-law finds out from her grandson, Eli, about Jonah’s visit, she confronts Jonah and notifies an attorney. She can prove that Elizabeth committed four, not just two murders. This sets in motion an election-year trial against the daughter-in-law Olivia Daleiden always hated for living with her only son, Daniel, outside of marriage.
“Eli drives to Chicago to lambast Jonah for setting off this investigation. Sparks fly between Jonah and Eli, though more than anger prompts the conflagration. Together, they will do all they can to save the family’s farm and Elizabeth’s life. Though circumstantial evidence would convict Elizabeth Daleiden, she and Violet, her lawyer, decide to let everyone tell their story in court. Then a sympathetic judge, allows the defendant to do the same. Eli and Jonah both learn the secrets of loving hearts.
“Fritsch may have been born a natural mystery storyteller. He became a full-time author after retiring early as a public-interest lawyer. Tips and clues are carefully planted between sexual innuendos. He skillfully builds tension and suspense, key components of a mystery. Readers will appreciate the lengthy list of characters at the beginning of the novel as they keep track of who appears in court or on the sidelines. LGBTQ readers will respond to the love story. Surprising to the end, this 209-page mystery is a credit to the author.”
RECOMMENDED by the US Review