Series: Henry David Thoreau Mysteries #3
Published by Kensington on Aug. 25, 2015
Genres: Cozy Mystery, Historical Mystery
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
Henry David Thorea’s impassioned activism in the Underground Railroad leads him away from the banks of Walden Pond into a morass of murder…
In the spring of 1848, Thoreau returns to Plumford, Massachusetts, in search of a fellow conductor on the Underground Railroad, who has gone missing along with the escaped female slave he was assigned to transport. With the help of his good friend, Dr. Adam Walker, Thoreau finds the conductor—shot to death on a back road.
When the two men discover that Adam’s beloved cousin Julia has given the slave safe harbor, their relief is counterbalanced by concern for Julia, who has put herself in grave danger. Another conductor has been murdered in a neighboring town and a letter has been found from someone claiming to have been hired to assassinate anyone harboring fugitive slaves. With all of them now potential targets, the need for Thoreau and Adam to apprehend the killer is more urgent than ever…
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Thoreau in Phantom Bog is an interesting historical mystery set during the Civil War with – you guessed it! – Henry David Thoreau as the amateur detective. He’s a good choice for that role, since the keen intellect and observational skills evident in his writings are also key to success in criminal investigation.
Thoreau is not the main POV character, however. Instead, we see through the first-person narration of Dr. Adam Walker and his beloved, Julia Pelletier, both of them friends of Thoreau’s and both – Julia as of this book – also involved in the Underground Railroad. It’s an unusual approach for a mystery, but I feel it works well. Julia and Adam are observant, if not as much so as Henry, but they are less quick to grasp the implications of what they see… which gives the reader a chance to draw their own conclusions.
All three characters are interesting and sympathetic. Julia chafes a bit at the restrictions on women in the period, and she and Adam must keep their relationship a secret since she is married but separated. The authors seem to have a good grasp of the time period, not only in the setting and historical details but also in the “voice” of the two first-person narrators. All three – Henry, Adam, and Julia – speak and act in ways that are consistent with what I know of the time period; if you’ve read Louisa May Alcott’s books or others set in the same period, you’ll find the slightly formal phrasing quite familiar and not at all difficult.
The historical details are also accurate, to the best of my knowledge. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the workings of the Underground Railroad, and glimpsing into daguerreotype production, 19th-century medicine (there’s a cameo appearance by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes) and the Transcendantalists. Though Emerson doesn’t make an appearance, his wife Lidian does, as do Thoreau’s mother and sister. Given the setting, a small village near Concord, I hope to see other familiar literary and historical names crop up as the series continues, including perhaps the Alcotts.
One of my favorite characters in the book is an escaped slave. Although she is not a major character, the exchanges between her and Julia are well-written, and the sympathy and respect that springs up between them is heartwarming.
The mysteries in the book – and there are at least three – aren’t too difficult to solve. I managed to figure out most things pretty quickly after each character or puzzle was introduced, though there were a few surprises. Still, I’m glad to have discovered this series, and I will happily read the other books, both previous and to come – as much for the characters and historical setting as for the mysteries.
CHALLENGES: Cruisin’ Through the Cozies; COYER #29: a book with no magical or futuristic elements. (Though there might be a ghost… or not. You’re never quite sure.)
Thanks to Kensington, I have one paperback copy of Thoreau in Phantom Bog to give away! Please enter using the giveaway form below. I’ll contact the winner via email.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Scavenger Hunt - Summer 2015
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2015