A Simple Murder

Each year the Mystery Writers of America cooperate with Minotaur Books to pick a winner of the First Crime Novel Award.  Whenever I read one of these award winners I always go into the process with a chip on my shoulder that is inscribed, “Oh, yeahI’ll be the judge of you!”

What made this year’s entry even more intriguing was that it is written by Goshen (NY) assistant public library director Eleanor Kuhns.  Now my chip has changed to boxing gloves because I am thinking, “Why can’t I write a mystery novel like Eleanor did?”

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Kuhns is a very talented writer.  For her first novel, she has decided to set her story in post-Revolutionary War Maine, a task that always implies a great deal of research and the worry about carrying an aura of historical accuracy throughout.  No worries there as the book reads seamlessly as a historical novel.

Kuhns also decided on a male protagonistWilliam Rees, a Revolutionary War veteran who has managed to become a part time investigator.  His real job is as a traveling weaver, a choice that has meant he no longer has a wife, has thoroughly alienated his son David, and has lost the farm he inherited to relatives who are not maintaining it.  He is a strong and sympathetic character for this novel and appears to be interesting enough to carry a series.

The plot of A Simple Murder shows that murder is never simple.  When trying to connect with his son David at the Shaker community of Zion, William is asked to put his skills to the test and solve a murder.   The victim is a woman who like many of the residents of this utopia, arrived with baggage from her previous life that may have caught up with her.  During the investigation, William finds himself linked Lydia Jane Farrell, another woman with a checkered past who is allowed to live in the community out of loyalty for past actions.  It seems multiple characters have to carry guilt for past sins and therein lies the underlying theme of the book.

What do we have here:  a historical, weaving, Shaker communities, male-female relationships, familial relationships and greed.  The perfect gumbo for a classic traditional mystery and plenty of ingredients to have a book discussion on.  I hope you will consider giving this book a chance with your group and support one of our own.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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