The Blazing Tree
Adamson, whose previous mysteries have been set in present day Puerto Rico, begins a new series with this book. Set in 19th century New England, this is the first adventure of Boston police reporter Michael Merrick. At one time a serious opium-eater, Merrick has been rehabilitated and provided his previous position by an unknown benefactor. His new assignment, given him personally by the newspaper’s owner, Jaspar Quincey, is to find out who’s responsible for setting a number of fires near and around Hancock, a Shaker village in western Massachusetts. One of these fires, not accidental, has caused a fatality — perhaps not intended, but a death all the same.
Masquerading as a new member, Merrick joins the community of Shakers, and his investigation begins — and the mystery comes to a near dead stop, or at least it proceeds in only fits and starts. There’s an abundance of background detail here to satisfy most history buffs, but the sheer number of characters and the multiple subplots (including a possibly one-sided romantic interest) tend to detract from the story line, not add to it.
Adamson has very good intentions, but in spite of a semi-uplifting ending — the mystery is solved, if not all of Michael’s problems — she can’t quite get the tale out of second gear.
As an aside to more devoted detective fiction fans, the resemblance of the Quincey-Merrick detective team to Nero Wolfe and his second-in-command, Archie Goodwin, is probably quite intentional.