The winner of the 2011 MWA/Minotaur First Crime Novel Competition takes an itinerant weaver searching for his son to an unexpectedly tangled mystery inside a Shaker community in 1796 Maine.
Returning to his home, Dugard Pond Farm, after a long absence, William Rees is dismayed to learn that 14-year-old David, the son Will’s sister Caroline and her husband Samuel Prentiss agreed to take in when Will left the farm in their care to ply his weaving trade on the road, has run away with nary a peep from them. Will swiftly tracks the boy to Zion, a Shaker enclave outside Durham, and even more quickly establishes that David considers himself abandoned by his father and has no desire to leave with him. But his brief visit with Zion leader Elder White means that he’s available to get detained on suspicion of murder by Sheriff Coulton when Sister Chastity, formerly Catherine Parker, is bashed to death, then invited at David’s suggestion to investigate her death after farm couple Henry and Jane Doucette vouch for his alibi. Everyone at Zion assumes that none of their Family could have broken the peace so wantonly, but Will’s not so sure. Chaperoned by Lydia Jane Farrell, who’s continued to live in Zion even after being expelled from the Family, he questions the Sisters and Brothers. He and his delightfully independent-minded Watson discover that Sister Chastity’s death is anything but simple; instead, it’s the latest instance of a pattern of violence that reaches back two years—a pattern that’s still not complete.
Kuhns’ focus on a closed community allows her to keep her story from drowning in period detail while emphasizing both the limitations and the charms of the Shakers’ vanished world.