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by Janet Kellough
Dundurn, November 2009
348 pages
$11.99 CAD
ISBN: 1554884349

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Janet Kellough is a local historian, folklorist, storyteller, and writer based in the Prince Edward County region near Kingston Ontario. She now enters the mystery field with this novel. All of Kellough's fiction and non-fiction to date has specialized in bringing the stories and history of this area to public attention. This mystery draws on her considerable research in order to establish the time period for the murders just after the 1837 Mackenzie rebellion. The county is in turmoil, people are suspicious of neighbours and strangers alike and unsure of their present and past loyalties. Rumours of pirate attacks have most people on edge.

Thaddeus Lewis is an itinerant preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church who is suffering after the mysterious death of his daughter. He is convinced that his son-in-law was somehow responsible for her death. However, during his travels he comes across the murders of other young girls and notices that the victims bear a certain physical resemblance to his daughter. Local authorities are convinced that each murder is an isolated incident but, in an era when there is little communication between various parts of the county, Lewis's travels allow him to realize that there is a similarity among the crime scenes and in the circumstances surrounding the deaths. When the local police ignore his observations he resolves to discover who the murderer is on his own.

His suspicions fall on other travellers, especially on fellow unorthodox preacher Morgan Spicer and on travelling peddler Isaac Simms who sells the bibles and the Lord's prayer engraved on the head of a pin souvenir found at each murder scene. But when Lewis finds himself attending the wounded with Spicer after an attack on Prescott by a rogue group, the Patriot Hunters from the United States, he discovers he is a better man than he previously thought.

Readers will grow to like Thadddeus Lewis more and more as his character evolves into a thoughtful and sympathetic amateur detective. He also has a rather enlightened relationship, given the period, with his wife Betsy. She is totally supportive of her husband's calling even though it means they frequently have to move and she must parent their three sons largely on her own. Lewis's long hours in the saddle are divided between musing about the murders and dealing with domestic problems. Kellough skillfully intermingles his adventures with historical facts to give us a real insight into the period and the district. The story suggested itself to her from information discovered in privately published autobiography. It will be interesting to see if Kellough uses Lewis as the foundation for a new mystery series or takes off in another direction with new characters in her next mystery.

Reviewed by Ann Pearson, December 2009

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