Death of a Mill Girl
Josiah Beede, war hero and protégé of President Andrew Jackson, returns to his roots, spending time farming the difficult New Hampshire soil and working as a lawyer. That is, until the violated body of a stunning girl who had worked in a cotton mill is found on his land. The list of suspects includes a peddler, Beede’s black former slave, his neighbors, and the people from the mill.
You can feel the prevailing thoughts and feelings of the times concerning race, religion–through the slain girl and Beede’s dead wife, both Catholics—and slavery. Having made Beede live in New Orleans and Washington allows the author to contrast the various ways of life in the U.S. in 1836. He also excels in visually translating the physical setting of the farms and the mill to the reader’s mind. Both the strengths and weaknesses of the book lie in Beede himself. He is defined well enough to have made me suspect that he was a real historical person, but his outlandish naïveté when it comes to women is at odds with the urban life he led. The mystery, while present and adequate, doesn’t overshadow the story, which should please historical novel aficionados despite a few self-avowed discrepancies and anachronisms.