The scholar/sleuth investigates a series of deaths in a church congregation in an “agreeably malevolent” mystery that “comes to a spirited conclusion” (Publishers Weekly).
The Baptists of Nashoba are healthy. So are the Quakers, Lutherans, and Methodists. Every religious sect in this small New England town is in ruddy good health, save for the congregation at the Old West Church, whose members are dying like flies. As a rash of heart failure claims victim after victim, what first seemed like tragic coincidence begins to look a lot like murder. And in the small hamlets of Massachusetts, there is no better authority on bloodshed than Homer Kelly. A transcendentalist scholar who dabbles in the unraveling of violent crimes, Homer is just a township away when the plague of heart failure strikes Nashoba. As he attempts to separate natural deaths from the unnatural, Homer sees that beneath the piety of Old West Church lurks at least one parishioner who missed Sunday school the day they explained that thou shalt not kill.
This agreeably malevolent book has a goodly number of its scenes set in the Old West Church of Nashoba, where far too many of the seemingly virtuous and righteous villagers have murder on their minds. The interplay of the pious teachings from the pulpit and the ensuing mayhem is deftly handled, as the good men and women of the small New England town are shattered by one bewildering death after another: 12 in one year. Homer Kelly, a retired lieutenant detective, quickly zeros in on one blatant malefactor, but the other deaths are more puzzling. Did Betsy Bucky deliberately goad her husband into a heart attack by feeding him lavish doses of cholesterol? What about the supposed rash of heart failures among many of those grievously illis someone easing them into a quick death? Langton (Emily Dickinson is Dead, who shows a deep love of New England and its history, has peopled her fictional village with a memorable gallery of sunny, sensible parishioners who, far from being models of rectitude, try gamely to cope with their lust, greed and jealousy. A novel that's slow to start comes to a spirited conclusion when we find that a harsh and inevitable justice is meted out to those who flout the laws of God or man. Illustrations not seen by PW.