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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.