A Simple Murder
Maine, 1796, a Shaker settlement. The Shakers are a fascinating movement; their lifestyle and worldview could make for an absorbing historical novel. Sadly, this is not that novel.
Traveling weaver William Rees arrives home to find his son has run off to join the Shakers. Pursuing him to their settlement, he arrives on the eve of a murder – a Shaker woman has been bludgeoned. Rees must solve the crime (and the inevitable other murders) while attempting to repair his relationship with his son and forming a new romantic attachment.
This is the author’s debut novel, and it is evident. The plotting is handled clumsily: the “suspense” prolonged by stopping conversations on the flimsiest of pretexts or being too tired to immediately pursue a lead; keys to the “mystery” are dropped in the reader’s lap well before the appropriate denouement (the protagonist, too slow or preoccupied to do the appropriate arithmetic, plods on). The characters are underdeveloped, the prose unpolished, the historical setting unrealized, and all the conventions of the genre on parade in clichéd form – even waiting to gather all the major players so Rees can stand before them, explain every aspect of the mystery, and “reveal” the murderer to astonished gasps. Not recommended.