A Simple Murder: A Mystery (Will Rees)
by Eleanor Kuhns
Cover Artist: Photo: Bill Miles
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250023049
Date: 05 March 2013 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In the summer of 1795, Will Rees, a traveling weaver, visits Zion, a Shaker farming community located on the outskirts of Durham, Maine. The Shakers are members of a religious cult who have committed themselves to a simple life of hard work, prayer, and celibacy. One of their newest recruits is fourteen-year-old David Rees who is angry at his father, Will.
When a young Shaker woman, Sister Chastity, is bludgeoned to death, Elder White persuades Will Rees, who has a history of sleuthing, to locate the killer. With the aid of a beautiful beekeeper, Lydia Jane Farrell, Will investigates the Shakers; he learns they aren't as simple as they pretend to be. He uncovers dark secrets and mysterious deaths and disappearances. Soon Willís life, along with the lives of David and Lydia, is in grave peril.
Eleanor Kuhns' A Simple Murder is a complex, historical whodunit that is extremely riveting. Numerous deaths and disappearances help maintain a fast pacing that makes this novel difficult to put down. The backwoods of Maine provide a unique, dichotomous setting that is cozy and creepy, beautiful and horrifying. The title is an oxymoron. The murder of Sister Chastity is not a simple one; it is part of a complex web of deceit and lies. When given a deadline, Will and Lydia race against time to solve the murder. Failure could mean the closure of Zion and the destitution of its members, primarily the women.
Will Rees and Lydia Jane Farrell make an excellent sleuthing team; readers will be left hoping they will learn more about them in a sequel. Their similar backgrounds drew them together, compelling them to forge a romantic interest in each other. Will Rees still mourns the death of his wife, Dolly, eight years ago. Dolly loved farming and it is her memory that always kept him traveling, seldom returning to the farm where he left David in the hands of his sister Caroline and her husband Samuel Prentiss. Unfortunately, the Prentiss family mistreated David, forcing him to leave and join the Shakers. Will is consumed with guilt for not visiting the farm more often; however, he is determined to make amends.
Lydia Jane Farrell is a woman of scorn with many secrets. She was impregnated by a member of the Shakers, Charles Ellis, who later disappeared; her baby died shortly after birth. Now, she and her bees live alone in a cottage belonging to the Shakers. Strong-willed and brave, Lydia is determined to be at Will's side every step of the investigation, even when he makes gruesome discoveries, similar to the ones found on the hit television series CSI and its spinoffs. Lydia's heart is still held hostage by the disappearance of her beloved Charles over two-and-a-half years ago. In a similar manner, Will's heart is being held hostage by the death of his wife, Dolly. Lydia lives in shame and fear--shame that Charles may have abandoned her during her pregnancy and fear he may have been murdered.
Despite its colonial setting, when our nation was still young, A Simple Murder is an easy, quick read. I galloped through it in a few days. Fans of historical mysteries will definitely want to read it this summer. Will Rees reminds me of the classic investigators such as Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, and Frank Columbo. At the end of the novel, he brings all the surviving suspects together into a town hall meeting where he reveals the killer. Everyone, including myself, was stunned. Many readers will be hoping that Eleanor Kuhns' superb debut is the beginning of a new mystery series involving the colonial PI team of Will Rees and Lydia Jane Farrell.
If you enjoy historical mysteries centered around wealthy, greedy families, then I also recommend Catriona McPherson's Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder. This novel is set in post WWI Dumfermline, England. Aristocratic PI Dandy Gilver is investigating the suspicious deaths of two young lovers who were from families owning rival department stores. She finds herself neck deep in deceit and adultery.