A Simple Shaker Murder

Written by Deborah Woodworth
Review by Trudi Jacobson

This is the fourth entry in the Sister Rose Callahan series, set in the Shaker Village of North Homage, Kentucky during the 1930s. The Great Depression forms a potent backdrop for all four stories. The apparent wealth of the Shaker community, particularly in regard to the variety and quantity of the food they have available, causes residents of the nearby village of Languor to look upon the religious community with suspicion and ill-will. The village sheriff is not immune to such feelings, and detection often falls onto Rose, the eldress of the Shakers.

This volume sees the arrival of a group of New-Owenites at North Homage. Ostensibly, they are there to study the communal living habits of the Shakers, in preparation for reviving Robert Owen’s utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana. However, they seem bent upon sowing discord and suspicion amongst the Shakers, rather than quietly observing the community. One of the New-Owenites is found hanging from a tree in the Shaker orchard, and the murder may have been observed by a wild, mistreated child who arrived with the New-Owenites, and who may be in danger for her life. Rose not only has to cope with trying to solve the murder, but also her desire to protect and educate the girl.

In preparation for reviewing this book, I read the first two in the series. I found all three to be fascinating glimpses into a unique way of life that is almost extinct in the US today (there is only one remaining Shaker community, with just a very few, very elderly, residents).