Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Book Author: Eleanor Kuhns

DEATH IN SALEM by Eleanor Kuhns: Book Review

Will Rees, the traveling weaver of Eleanor Kuhns’ three previous novels, has left his home and family in Maine to travel to Salem, Massachusetts to buy material to make into cloth.

In 1796, the port city of Salem was the state’s second most populous city.  Will knows that he can obtain beautiful material there, both for his family and to sell. Supporting his second wife Lydia, their five adopted children, their baby on the way, and Will’s teenage son David, the only child from his first marriage, requires more income than Will’s farm can produce, so he travels to Salem to buy what he needs.

On the main roadway of the city, Will is stopped by a funeral procession. The deceased is Anstiss Boothe, the wife of one of Salem’s leading citizens.  Leading the wagon bearing the coffin is Stephen Eaton, a man who saved Will’s life when they fought in the Revolutionary War nearly two decades earlier.  Will hasn’t seen Twig, as his former comrade was nicknamed, in years and is surprised to learn that he’s the city’s undertaker.

Will’s buying trip is taking longer than he expected, in part because of another death in the Boothe family.   It occurs the day after his arrival in Salem and is that of the family’s patriarch, Jacob. But unlike the death of Anstiss, who had been an invalid for nearly twenty years, Jacob was murdered–stabbed through with a sword-like weapon in the tunnel beneath his home.

Knowing that Will had solved a crime when they were both soldiers in the Continental Army, Trig prevails upon him to look into the murder because the woman he plans to marry is a servant in the Boothe home and a possible suspect.  Reluctant as he is to stay away from his family any longer, Will agrees to meet with with Xenobia, Trig’s woman friend, and then with the Boothe children.

Only Peggy Boothe seems to want Will to investigate.  William, the oldest of the four Boothe children, is openly contemptuous of Will’s abilities; Betsy, the older daughter, is so involved with her upcoming wedding and her clothes that she doesn’t appear to have any interest in discovering who murdered her father; Mattie, the second son, wants only to be left alone to pursue his theatrical plans.  But Peggy, who helped her father run the family shipping business, prevails, and the other siblings reluctantly accept her desire to have Will look into their father’s murder.

Once again Eleanor Kuhns has written a mystery that transports the reader to the late eighteenth century.  The sense of a young country, not even two decades past its birth, is beautifully brought to life.  Its characters present emotions that are as real today as they were more than two hundred years ago.

You can read more about Eleanor Kuhns at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.




CRADLE TO GRAVE by Eleanor Kuhns: Book Review

The scene is Maine, the time 1797.  Will Rees, the protagonist of Eleanor Kuhns’ debut mystery A Simple Murder, has spent the last few months farming his land in Maine, but his heart isn’t in it.  By occupation and desire he’s a traveling weaver, plying his trade in New England and the adjoining states. 

Then he and his new bride, Lydia, get a letter from an elder of the Shaker society in Zion, where the couple met.  Sister Hannah Moore, better known by her nickname Mouse, has left Zion and now lives at Mount Unity, a small Shaker enclave near Albany, New York.  She has been accused of kidnapping five children from their home and bringing them to the religious group. 

Despite the treacherous wintry road conditions, Will and Lydia feel compelled to rent a carriage and follow the stagecoach route from Maine to Dover, New York, to find out what compelled Mouse to abduct the children.  Arriving at Mount Unity, they first meet with the Shaker Elder who explains the situation.  Mouse, along with another Sister of the Shaker community, had gone, as part of their charitable outreach, to the home of a poor woman with five children. 

On their first visit all appeared under control, although the mother seemed the worse for drink.  However, Mouse was not satisfied about the children’s welfare; when she returned on her own a few days later, she was aghast at the squalor and unhealthy living conditions of the family.  She took the children with her back to the Shakers, and the next day the children’s mother came to the compound with the town’s constable and the children were returned to her.  Mouse is still convinced that the children are in an unhealthy situation and that their mother is unfit to care for them, and she begs Will and Lydia to look into the situation.

Eleanor Kuhns has given readers a fascinating look into life at the end of the eighteenth century in the newly-formed United States.  Towns and cities had what was called Poor Relief, a kind of welfare for indigent residents.  Such relief was limited to people who had been born in that town, or possibly limited even more stringently to people whose parents had been born in the town.  Otherwise, the councils were entitled, and most often did, to force a family to leave their home and seek refuge elsewhere. 

That was a constant threat against Maggie Whitby, the mother whose children Mouse had taken.  But although Maggie had no obvious means of support, she had inherited the ramshackle cabin she lived in and thus was considered a property owner who could not be sent away or, in the words of the times, be “warned away.”

However, before any action against her is taken, Maggie Whitby is found murdered.  Mouse is the main suspect, although there are others with motives at least as strong.  Will is determined to prove Mouse’s innocence, and his investigation leads him into the many secrets that this small town is hiding.

Cradle to Grave is the third in the Will Rees series, the first novel having been the winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s First Crime Novel Award.   This book is equally good, with strong, interesting characters and the author’s knowledge of the early days of American history skillfully woven into the well-developed plot.

You can read my review of A Simple Murder elsewhere on this blog.  You can read more about Eleanor Kuhns at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.





A SIMPLE MURDER by Eleanor Kuhns: Book Review

Winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Best First Crime Novel Award for 2011, A Simple Murder is a simply wonderful book.

Eleanor Kuhns takes the reader to post-Revolutionary War Maine, where former soldier William Rees had been a farmer living with his wife Deborah and their young son David. Following Deborah’s death several years before the novel opens, William left his son and his farm in the care of his sister Caroline and her husband with the understanding that the farm and its livestock were to remain as is and that they would take care of David as if he were one of their own children.  On his visit to the farm after a year’s absence, William is stunned to learn that thirteen-year-old David has left the farm and gone to the nearby Shaker community and that many of the farm animals have been sold.

The Shakers, also called the United Society of Believers, were a group founded in the 1770s in England who came to America to live in communities where they could freely practice their beliefs. Known for their simple lifestyle, celibacy, and care of orphans, the Shakers lived in enclaves outside cities and towns, but their unique way of life sometimes led to persecution and hostility from their neighbors.  Thus William rushes to the Shaker village to make certain his son is there willingly and is safe.

William has became an itinerant weaver in recent years, traveling the northern states and plying his trade.  But his freedom has cost him the closeness he would have liked with his son; indeed, when he first sees David the youth wants nothing to do with him.

Assured by an angry and distant David that it was his choice to enter the community, although as yet he has not signed the Covenant to become a full member, William spends the night at a nearby farm and is stunned when approached by the town’s sheriff the following morning and placed under arrest for the murder of a young Shaker woman, Sister Chastity.

The next day, following the farmer’s statement that William had indeed spent the night in his barn and could not possibly have returned to the Shakers and committed a murder, William is released.  But then he is asked by Elder White, co-leader of the Shakers, to return to the community and help them find the murderer.  When William questions the Elder as to how and why he’s been chosen to do this, White replies that William’s son David has told the Elder that William has solved several murders since his release from the Continental army.  Heartened by this show of respect and possible affection by his son, William accepts the commission and returns to Durham to find the culprit.

The young woman who was killed left a prosperous husband to join the Shakers, although some in the community questioned her commitment to them and to the two young children she brought with her.  Was there another reason, other than Sister Chastity’s alleged interest in the Shaker faith, that brought her to Durham?

And Lydia Jane Farrell, an attractive woman who lives just outside the Society in a home provided by the Shakers, is another enigma; what is keeping her there?  William is faced with many secrets, both within the Shaker community and without.

Eleanor Kuhns’ debut novel is a fascinating read, both because of the time period in which she has set the book and the interesting characters she has created.

You can read more about her at this web site.