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Bookends: Murder in Prince Edward County January 31, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Murder in Prince Edward County

By Dan Davidson

September 6, 2016

sowing-poison– 739 words –

 

Sowing Poison: A Thaddeus Lewis Mystery

By Janet Kellough

Dundurn Press

369 pages

$11.39

Thaddeus Lewis is a former Methodist circuit rider, an itinerant preacher who moves from town to town, holding services where ever there is the chance of a congregation in need of his services. This has been his career for many years, but as we meet him in this book, the health of his wife and their sudden acquisition of a granddaughter (following their daughter’s murder) has forced the little family to settle down.

It’s the 1840s in Ontario, just a few years after the 1837 uprisings in both Upper and Lower Canada, and things are still unsettled. Thaddeus and Betsy have settled down with young Martha in Wellington, trading service in the Temperance Hotel run by his sister and her husband, for the use of a cottage adjacent to the hotel property. Betsy is not always well, but dos what she can, while Thaddeus has adjusted to the role of general handyman and occasional server.

The story begin with the disappearance of Nathan Elliot, who has returned home from the States to help his brother tend to their ailing and aged (and cantankerous) father. Brother Reuban rushed for help when Nathan had an accident in the woods, but when the rescue party arrived, there was no sign of him.

Shortly after that, a woman claiming to be his wife arrives. Clementine Elliot and her young son, Horatio, take up residence at the Temperance, and much to the dismay of Thaddeus, she immediately sets up shop as a medium and starts holding séances in her rooms.

It’s not Thaddeus’ hotel, so he really can’t put a stop to this practice, which he is convinced is fraudulent and not some sort of supernatural evil. Still, that doesn’t stop him from trying to figure out just how she is rooking the locals who have suffered the loss of a loved one. It turns out that she’s a great “cold reader” and also makes free use of the town gossip, but there is also a bit of 19th century technology involved, somewhat in the line of what has been on display in this summer’s “Houdini & Doyle” television series.

According to the author’s notes, Thaddeus Lewis is based on a real person of that name who left behind an 1865 autobiography which is the source material for some of this series. It began with On the Head of a Pin, to which references are made in this second book, Sowing Poison, and continues with 47 Sorrows, The Burying Ground, and Wishful Seeing.

In the first book, Thaddeus tracked down a serial killer, one of whose victims had been his daughter. In this book, as several mysteries seem to arise in the town, he is inspired by reading “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, one of a series of early mysteries written by Edgar Allan Poe. He makes a conscious effort to apply the observational techniques used by Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin in this story.

While the mystery of Nathan’s disappearance looms large in this book, there are other problems. Members of the Orange Order attempt harm to a Roman Catholic family. A strange little man who turns out to be a detective investigating the activities of Mrs. Elliot vanishes suddenly. The two children discover the presence of a very ugly young man out on the sand marshes and t eventually turns out that this hare lipped wild child, all alone since the death of his parents, has been harvesting whatever meat he can find, including the bodies of individuals who have met their deaths by other means.

While there is a strong focus on the various mysteries that attract Thaddeus’ attention, this is also a tale about life in the 1840s, and it has threads of romance and domesticity woven around the mysteries.

I found a very pleasant way to pass the time while flying across the country recently. The only thing that left me a bit puzzled is the title.. There is murder, deception, cannibalism, mob violence and lots of activity in this story, but there is nary a hint of poison that I can see, unless it is an oblique reference to such moral poisons as greed and fraudulent practices.

That said, I’m certainly encouraged to look for more from this author.

 

-30-

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