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Cradle to Grave (Will Rees) by Eleanor Kuhns
Cover Artist: Sled and house by Maria Dryfhous / Dreamstime; Icicles by Fursteff / Shtterstock
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250050007
Date: 17 June 2014 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Blog / Show Official Info /

Will Rees, a wandering weaver and an amateur sleuth in the late seventeen hundreds, has married Lydia Farrell. Together, they leave Dugard, Maine, to visit a Shaker friend, Mouse, who lives at Mount Unity in the small community of Dover Springs, New York. Mouse (real name is Sister Hannah Moore) has been accused of trying to kidnap the children of a beautiful, young drunkard, Maggie Whitney. Maggie is the town outcast because of her wanton ways. An unmarried woman, each of her children appears to have a different father. Maggie is murdered and Mouse becomes the prime suspect. When Will begins investigating, someone attempts to kill him and those he loves.

Books by Eleanor Kuhn
Will Rees Mysteries:
* A Simple Murder
* Death of a Dyer
* Cradle to Grave
* Death in Salem
* The Devil's Cold Dish

Of the three mysteries that Eleanor Kuhns has written, Cradle to Grave is the most emotional. Not since Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter have I encountered a woman more scorned because of her adultery. Maggie Whitney has four children and each one appears to have a different father. To make matters worse, she is an alcoholic who often loses consciousness and is unable to take care of her children and an infant foundling that she is supposed to be wet-nursing. Fortunately, Will Rees and his wife, Lydia, are able to move into Maggie's dilapidated shack and take care of them. The adorable children fall in love with Will and Lydia, and vice versa.

The author knows her history. She depicts the horrors that the children must endure after Maggie is murdered. They become outcasts, unwanted and unloved. Not only is their parentage brought to question at the town council meeting but also the parentage of their mother, Maggie. If Maggie isn't a citizen of Dover Springs, then the children will be turned out of the community and will not be able to claim any Poor Relief, a type of community welfare. In those days, children began working as farm laborers when they were twelve or younger. Many were worked to death. Simon, the oldest boy, works hard milking cows. He is like an indentured servant or slave. If it wasn't for Will and Lydia, the children would have gone hungry. I can't help but love this couple; they're a great sleuthing team.

The reader receives a brief history lesson on the Revolutionary War. There were the Patriots who strongly opposed the British and the Loyalists who supported them. Suspicions abound that one of Dover Springs' citizens, long deceased, may have colluded with the British for financial aid. Times were perilous and people, especially women, would do anything for food. I've said many times before that historical mysteries, such as this one, make me appreciate living in modern times and living in the USA. However, some of the social issues that were a concern in the late seventeen hundreds have grown considerably worse today. For example, we have an epidemic of children being raised by single mothers. Many fathers are not taking responsibility for their children. Will is a man that is determined to be a better father the second time around. He will not make the same mistakes that he did with his son, David, who ran away in Kuhn's debut novel, A Simple Murder.

Though the body count is not a high one, there are enough murders and violence in Cradle to Grave to maintain a fast pacing. At times, the mystery is quite complex. However, acting like a type of Police Lieutenant Columbo, Will Rees gathers all suspects into one room, as he did in the previous novels, and is able to reveal the murderer. The ending is a rather emotional one that will please fans of this series.

Because of the adorable children in peril; the cold, icy setting; the emotional drama of trying to determine who fathered each of Maggie's children; the Revolutionary War history; and the abundance of violence, I highly recommend this mystery. On a more personal note, I would like to say that I finished reading this novel with a greater understanding and sympathy for those who, like Maggie, suffer from addictions. I shouldn't judge others until I have walked in their shoes.

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