A murder mystery upends a small coal-mining town and threatens to unearth numerous residents’ secrets.
In this debut historical novel, it’s 1933 in the Canadian Maritimes when Mabel Adshade gets caught in a snowstorm on her way to bake bread at Cameron’s Bakery and Dry Goods Emporium. A cheerful soul, despite her despicable father’s abuse, Mabel is fond of her job and her boss, the kindly James Cameron. Unfortunately, James’ wife, Margaret, is suspicious of her husband’s affection for this crass teenage girl, especially because the Camerons’ once-loving marriage hasn’t been the same since their young son died (“She’s nothing but trouble. I don’t know why you hired her…a scatterbrained girl, with no experience, and not a single reference,” Margaret tells James). As Mabel recovers from frostbite and injury at the Camerons’ home, her presence eventually starts to bring James and Margaret back together. Then, the tragic death of another townsperson threatens to tear all of their lives apart. A hardhearted and ambitious police sergeant is willing to do anything—even frame an innocent man like James’ good friend Stanley MacIntyre—to get credit for solving the crime. The investigation that follows has the potential to reveal the secrets of everyone in town, including James and Mabel. MacLeod tells an ultimately heartwarming tale, albeit one littered with plenty of upsetting moments. The town is populated with enough distinct characters and historical details to come right off the page and swallow the reader whole. But once the central mystery is solved, the book continues to ramble slowly onward like a lovable but long-in-the-tooth dog. It’s nice to see how the characters’ lives progress following these momentous events, but without the mystery to drive the plot forward—and with numerous jumps forward in time—it’s harder to stay engaged. Even more tragedies inevitably strike, and despite the story’s focus on positive themes such as faith, friendship, and compassion, it’s difficult to remain upbeat while reading about so many bad things happening to good people. Fortunately, Mabel and James are such delightful characters that readers should find themselves sticking with them until the bittersweet end.
This heartfelt historical novel about a homicide in the Canadian Maritimes is often hard to get through—but equally hard to put down.