Is there room in the family plot for one more body?
Let’s see. Charles Putnam, of the Boston and Newport Putnams, died in 1863. His son Edmund passed on 24 years later. But where lies his wife Belinda, who departed this life back in 1925? Could the answer lie in the mourning jewelry containing her loved ones’ hair passed down through the generations and now artfully displayed with the corpse of Brad Putnam, a student studying Victorian death rituals with art historian Sweeney St. George (O’ Artful Death, 2003)? Looking into the Putnam lives and deaths, Sweeney is hampered at every turn by Brad’s immediate family, who seem less agitated about his murder than about his younger brother Peter’s death five years ago. She’s also stymied by his college buddies, who snack on mushrooms while communing with a Ouija board in Mount Auburn cemetery. And there’s the tricky matter of the dates that don’t match on the mourning brooch and Edmund’s headstone. Is there illegitimacy in the family tree? Are its members claiming more of the family inheritance than they’re entitled to? More to the point: Is some family relation Brad’s murderer?
It’s daunting to read about so many well-intentioned citizens blithely lying to the police, and Sweeney’s love life is treacly, but Taylor’s on sure footing when she focuses on graveyard art, Victorian burial sites, and mourning brooches.