A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns
Widower William Rees drove his wagon into town like a man possessed. Normally an easy-going, itinerant weaver, Rees has just discovered that his kinfolk have cheated him, and his son has run away to be with the Shaker religious community. In 18th-century, rural Maine, it is not so easy to retrieve a teenager who hates you, get your land back, or solve A Simple Murder.
For murder is what happens just after Rees visits the Shaker farm. A beautiful, young mother has been heinously killed and the outwardly peaceful, celibate, segregated community finds it very suspicious that it happened just after they entertained Rees, a stranger. Fortunately, he has witnesses who say that he was somewhere else at the time of the killing. Nonetheless, Rees is drawn in to solve the mystery because he has experience with such things.
In order to do his job, he must interview the members of the community—male and female. He can’t speak to the women without a chaperone so they provide one for him. Lydia Jane Farrell had officially left the Shakers under mysterious circumstances but she was still welcome to come among them. When faced with a partner both maddeningly beautiful and rather annoyingly forthright and clever, Rees begins to doubt his decision to never seriously become involved with a woman again.
Eleanor Kuhn’s A Simple Murder is an excellent freshman effort that was rewarded by winning a prize for First Crime Novel from the Mystery Writers of America. Most rewarding for readers is its well-done immersion into another time, place, and culture, as well as certainly characters that are worth following into the second book, Death of a Dyer.