An 18th-century weaver/detective steps into a wasp's nest of family intrigue when he takes on his fourth case.
More than 100 years after the witch trials, Salem, Massachusetts, is a thriving port second only to Boston, and its leading citizens have grown rich in trade with the Orient. Will Rees has come to buy imported fabric, and he lingers to watch the funeral procession of Anstiss, the invalid wife of merchant Jacob Boothe. Rees witnesses an ugly scene: Boothe’s estranged in-laws, a prosperous whaling family, blame him and his younger daughter, Peggy, for Anstiss’ death. Rees is on his way home to the District of Maine when his friend Stephen “Twig” Eaton fetches him back to Salem. Jacob Boothe has been stabbed to death, and Twig’s sweetheart, the Boothes’ slave Xenobia, stands accused. After Rees helps exonerate Xenobia, William Boothe, Jacob’s older son, retains the weaver to solve the murder. The Boothes are not a happy family. Peggy is angry with her father for displacing her as unofficial bookkeeper and turning the accounts over to William. The other son, Matthew, is a wastrel who seems to care less about his father than about the dramatic society he belongs to, along with one of his brothers-in-law. The other Boothe daughter’s main concern is that scandal doesn’t disrupt her upcoming wedding. But scandal there is when the cousin of Jacob’s rumored mistress is strangled. Rees thinks a woman’s sympathetic touch might help and sends for his wife, Lydia. Together they try to make sense of hidden merchandise in Salem’s vast tunnel system, a piratical French sea captain, the mystery of a ship that once belonged to the Boothe family, and a strange tattoo that could solve the Salem murders.
Rees and Lydia would have made better progress if they hadn’t stopped to eat every few pages and Kuhns (Cradle to Grave, 2014, etc.) hadn’t described every bite, along with numerous other historical details. Still, the Reeses make an amiable sleuthing team in a post–Revolutionary War setting.