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Death of a Dyer (Will Rees Mysteries) by Eleanor Kuhns
Cover Artist: Donald Dorn
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250033963
Date: 18 June 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Blog / Show Official Info /

Will Dees, the traveling weaver, has returned home to Dugard, Maine, after solving a murder at the Shaker community. He has brought Lydia Farrell, a Shaker, and his son, David, with him. His sister, Caroline, and her husband, Sam Prentiss, have been evicted from Will's farm because of their mistreatment of David. Upon his return, Will learns that his boyhood friend, Nate Bowditch, successful dyer and landowner, has been brutally murdered. The suspects are many because Nate was a lucky card player who seldom lost. Also, Nate's wife was not faithful; in fact, fidelity is a virtue that few citizens in Dugard possess.

The deliciously nasty, soap opera-like drama in Eleanor Kuhns' Death of a Dyer nearly forces the novel's mystery to take a backseat. There is a tremendous amount of drinking, gambling and adultery (mostly adultery) occurring in the small Maine town of Dugard in the year 1796. No wonder the two main eating establishments are named Bull and Contented Rooster. One character has sown his seed throughout the community. Father's Day must be extremely chaotic in Dugard. Many of the characters don't know who their real fathers are. They have remained closely kept secrets until Will Dees begins investigating. Like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, he interviews everyone, gradually learning dark secrets that eventually lead to the killer's identity.

Also in the novel, there is a tremendous amount of racism. Though the location is Maine, and not the Deep South, some wealthy farmers own slaves. Those slaves who have been freed are treated just as disrespectfully as those still living in bondage. For example, some of the Caucasian characters refuse to sit down to a meal at the same table as a freed slave. Worst yet, two evil men, slave takers, have entered Dugard and won't leave until they have apprehended an escaped slave. Unfortunately, they will abduct any black person they see and lead them away, claiming they are still slaves. In this manner, many black people have disappeared, victims of slave takers. Rees struggles to keep a young man, Augustus, from being abducted. His valor reminds me of countless Poles who hid Jews from Nazis during World War II.

Rees has a great deal of problems other than investigating Nate Bowditch's murder. He is harassed by his brother-in-law, Sam Prentiss, whom he evicted from his farm. Sam becomes extremely violent and abusive when he is drunk; he insists that Rees' farm rightfully belongs to Rees' sister, Caroline. Rees is also under a great deal of pressure to marry Lydia Farrell who doesn't want to be treated as a servant. An extremely independent woman, who goes undercover in the Bowditch home to learn the identity of Nate's killer, she insists on being treated as an equal. Furthermore, Rees is trying hard to strengthen his relationship with his son, David, who is becoming a man and showing an interest in courting girls and running the farm. David still has anger issues concerning the death of his mom, Dolly, and his father constantly leaving the farm during the winter to become a traveling weaver.

Eleanor Kuhn's Death of a Dyer is an excellent sequel to her award-winning debut, A Simple Murder. Both have intriguing plots with a lot of racy drama; three-dimensional characters (good and evil) that seem extremely realistic; and an Agatha Christie-like denouement when Rees gathers all the suspects into one room and reveals, to the shock of everyone present, the killer's identity.

Furthermore, Death of a Dyer ends with a cliffhanger. The survival of a main character is in doubt. We must wait until the series' next installment to learn whether or not they live. Therefore, I highly recommend Death of a Dyer to fans of historical mysteries. It can be read as a standalone; however, I highly recommend reading the debut first.

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