The Widow of Pale Harbor

Written by Hester Fox
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In the small and declining Maine town of Pale Harbor in 1846, Sophronia Carver, a widow and literary magazine publisher, lives with her servant on an estate known as Castle Carver.  Eerie developments are taking place around the town, and some seem to be focusing on Sophronia. Then a new and unlikely minister arrives in Pale Harbor: Gabriel Stone. Gabriel feels he has a duty to his deceased wife to be an upstanding transcendentalist cleric even though he doesn’t believe in the tenets of the sect.

Mysterious and threatening events increase in number and intensity, culminating in murder. The entire town seems arrayed against Sophronia, suspecting her of witchcraft and other hideous crimes. Gabriel and Sophronia cannot help but be attracted to each other, and the reluctant minister becomes the widow’s confidant and defender. Along with their own tragic past lives, the two must deal with the eccentric townspeople, many of whom have dark secrets, to find out who or what is behind the strange and deadly occurrences.

A Gothic romance with the flavor of Edgar Allan Poe, this is also a suspenseful mystery novel with new twists on almost every page. Who could not love a protagonist with the classically charming name of “Sophronia” or a reluctant minister who curses like a trooper? The author has done her historical homework, catching the zeitgeist of 19th-century coastal Maine and the free-thinking spiritual fads of Concord, Massachusetts in the same era. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, but there were also flashes of hilarious humor which only increased the appeal of the book for me. Highly recommended.