In A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns, itinerant weaver Will Rees comes home in 1795 Dugard, Maine to find that his 14-year-old son, David, has run away from Rees’s farm. David has been under the care of Rees’s sister, Caroline, and her husband, Sam, who have been living on the farm in exchange for caring for David in the eight years since the death of Rees’s wife, Dolly. But now he has run away to join Zion, a Shaker community, and Rees goes there to locate his son. After meeting an angry David, who is determined not to return to his abusive aunt and uncle, Rees finds weaving work in the vicinity and decides to settle in the area for a while. Then the next morning, the local sheriff arrests Rees for murder at the accusation of Elder White. Fortunately, Rees can prove he was with the family who hired him to weave for them when Sister Charity was killed with a bash on the head.
Then, Elder White asks Rees to investigate the crime at the suggestion of David. Because it would be inappropriate for Rees as a man to be alone with one of the Shaker sisters in order to conduct interviews, the leaders arrange for Lydia Ferrell, a former Shaker, to act as chaperone, and she soon becomes Rees’s partner in detection. The investigation takes them into discoveries of further murders.
Overall, I enjoyed listening to A Simple Murder, though it did have its weaknesses. Kuhns has created an interesting community of Shakers and those the Shakers live among. In this community, we see the rigid social structure of the religious sect, especially their emphasis on celibacy and limited interaction between the sexes. We also see the prejudices against the Shakers by those outside that community, often based just upon their style of clothing. I gather from what others have said in their reviews that many of the depictions of the Shaker community are not very accurate and that the book would be stronger with more research into the book’s setting. Even an author of fiction, especially historical fiction, needs to do plenty of research to keep the details based upon fact accurate, so I’m hoping that Kuhns learned from the reviews of this book and studied up on the Shaker community more thoroughly for her later books.
The mystery in this book is interesting, giving a satisfying denouement, but most of the characters are somewhat flat. I did find that the various characters got confusing to me at times, and frequently I had trouble matching names with individual characters because they didn’t have strong distinctions between them. The romantic relationship between Rees and Lydia develops gradually over the course of the book, making them more believable than other characters. In addition, I found the character of David to be rounder than most, a realistic teenage boy who struggles with resentment of his father and wants the attention of Rees.
Richard Waterhouse performs the audio edition of this book. With a voice that seems well- suited for narrating this book, he adds strength to this novel. Some of the reviews of the print or Kindle version of the book indicate confusion in identifying which character is speaking, but Waterhouse uses distinct voices for each character that clear up any such confusion. His performance adds to the enjoyment of this book.
A Simple Murder contained some notable weaknesses, but it kept me drawn to the book, wanting to listen to learn what would happen next. Though I would have liked to hear more about the Shaker culture, the depictions of the community were vivid and well- drawn. I have already purchased the next book in the series and look forward to hearing what will happen with the characters next. I give this book four stars.
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