Hats off to this compelling historical mystery.



In this Michigan-based mystery set in the 1930s, there are hints that a farmer’s much-younger wife had something to do with his deadly accident.

The newspaper report that 41-year-old Samuel R. Forrest died “in an unfortunate farm accident” omitted the gory details. The gate to the pen holding Black Devil, the farm’s bull, had been left open. The beast got out, apparently became enraged, and tore apart Sam’s body, ripping away his face. The paper also didn’t say that Sam’s wife, Polly Wolcott Forrest, “as pretty as any screen star,” is a mere 20 years old. Polly’s sister, Sarah Wolcott Johnson, older by 11 years, lives on the farm next door with her husband, the Rev. Wesley Johnson, and their three children. Wesley remembers how Polly once flirted with him, and his “unhealthy desire for Polly had kept growing.” Townspeople notice the fashionably dressed, blue-eyed blond does not look or play the part of a grieving widow. Polly stops attending church and starts cruising the town with former neighbor Jacob Frond in his Model A. Because of reports that the Forrests had an unhappy marriage—“everyone in the congregation had seen Polly’s bruises,” and there were rumors that Sam’s weight loss was due to poisoning by his wife—the local sheriff conducts multiple interviews with Polly and the Johnsons. The lawman wants to determine who left the gate open to Black Devil’s pen. Sarah, Wesley, and Polly take turns narrating different chapters of Whitney’s book. Polly’s portion, primarily epistolary, has her writing to her Connecticut-based mother, encouraging her to visit and relaying her dreams of becoming a milliner (she labels veils “the fashion statement of the moment”). The different points of view and the clues to Sam’s personality and death are quite engaging. The pacing moves the story along briskly, and historical references enrich the novel. Setting the Depression-era tone are conversations about massive job losses and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agricultural programs, plus vivid descriptions of patched hand-me-downs and “long, hungry, gaunt faces.” Yet a hopeful tone prevails, and images of Michigan meadows, apple picking, and sunshine layered through puffy clouds are skillfully laced in the engrossing tale.

Hats off to this compelling historical mystery.

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-9851601-0-9

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Lake William Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.


Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?