The greatest mystery is that this book is considered a mystery at all. The only crime involved is the “killing” of an ancient chestnut tree, and everybody knows who did it, so there isn’t even a puzzle. Homer Kelly, having written a best-selling book on old churches, is working on the sequel and stumbles on a lost church. His “now” quest alternates with an account of the events that led to it in 1868. The research is solid, and the author cleverly inserts photographs and drawings from that era into the story. Unfortunately, it reads like a list of historical data: clothes, food, houses, privies, trivial facts. The characters are thinly drawn and confusing; a family tree would have helped the reader. Yet they are more vivid than present-day Homer and his wife Mary, who feel dated despite their use of modern technology.
This book should appeal to readers who have followed the series from its beginning or who love quiet stories about post-Civil War everyday life. It will be disappointing to readers, like me, who have never read a previous entry in the series and regret the missed opportunities to make this tale more engrossing.