A Simple Murder: Book summary and reviews of A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns

A Simple Murder

by Eleanor Kuhns

A Simple Murder
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  • Published in USA  May 2012
    336 pages
    Genre: Thrillers

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Book Summary

Five years ago, while William Rees was still recovering from his stint as a Revolutionary War soldier, his beloved wife died. Devastated, Rees left his son, David, in his sister's care, fled his Maine farm, and struck out for a tough but emotionally empty life as a traveling weaver. Now, upon returning unexpectedly to his farm, Rees discovers that David has been treated like a serf for years and finally ran away to join a secluded religious sect - the Shakers.

Overwhelmed by guilt and hoping to reconcile with his son, Rees immediately follows David to the Shaker community. But when a young Shaker woman is brutally murdered shortly after Rees's arrival, Rees finds himself launched into a complicated investigation where the bodies keep multiplying, a tangled web of family connections casts suspicion on everyone, and the beautiful woman on the edge of the Shaker community might be hiding troubling ties to the victims. It quickly becomes clear that in solving Sister Chastity's murder, Rees may well expose some of the Shaker community's darkest secrets, not to mention endanger his own life.

An atmospheric portrait of a compelling time in American history, A Simple Murder is an outstanding debut from Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America's 2011 First Crime Novel Competition Winner.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Set in 1795, Kuhns's quiet, well-crafted debut, the winner of the MWA/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel competition, poignantly captures the Shaker ethos of the period. Only some anachronistic language jars." - Publishers Weekly

"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." - Kirkus Reviews

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Reader Reviews

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Judith P. (rosebud, missouri)

Mystery in a different time.
I loved this book as the mystery which drives the story is good but it is the Shaker backdrop and the time 1796 which make the character all the more interesting. One has to step out of our time and back into history ofpost revolution Maine. These characters could easily carry a series of books.

Suzanne R. (Nashville, TN)

Murder among the Shakers
A Simple Murder is set in year 1796 in a Shaker settlement in Maine. The story begins with William Rees, an itinerant weaver who is frantically trying to find his teenage son who has run away to live among the Shakers. He has barely arrived when he finds himself first accused of murder and then working for the Shakers to solve the murder of one of their own. Ably assisted by Lydia Jane Ferrell and his son David, Rees uncovers many secrets and several more murders before resolving the case in true detective fashion. It is an engaging read.

Chris W. (Temple City, CA)

Shaker murder mystery
An easy to read murder mystery set in a community of Shakers in the late 1700s. A traveling weaver arrives at this community looking for his son and is later asked to help solve a murder. I learned a lot about the Shaker lifestyle and was actually surprised by some of that information. The characters were interesting and well developed. The author did a good job of making the story believable and connecting the various story lines. I think this would be a good book for a book club partially because of the different lifestyles and historical information. This is a fun and fast read. I look forward to the next installment.

Karen M. (Great Falls, VA)

What an engrossing read!
Eleanor Kuhns sent a letter with the Advanced Readers’ Copy of A Simple Life that introduced us not only to the author as a person, but to her life as a professional librarian with her passion for books. She recalls her childhood of disappearing into books so well-written and engaging that she’d live for hours in the world the author had created. She wanted to bring that experience to readers in this debut novel, and she absolutely succeeded. Like Alice, I fell down through the rabbit hole and into another world in 1796. After one chapter, I canceled all plans for the day and night, and told my family to feed themselves. I did not want to return from this world of her investigator, William Rees, and the Shaker settlement near Durham, Maine. I knew absolutely nothing about life in 18th century Maine that was not purely focused on the American Revolution. And I had only a weak basic knowledge about the Shaker religion. The pacing is quick, Kuhn’s style is taut, and her choice of wording is perfect for such an engaging “who done it.”I could imagine Ms. Kuhns after she returns from work settling into a night of writing, meticulously reviewing each sentence and word choice and rewriting it until it was perfect. I appreciate that she writes in a direct linear style. Not a lot of passive voice. Her research translates into an authentic sense of being right next to her characters during their time. I truly appreciate that she did not pursue a distracting romance to fuddle up the mystery. This is too good a book to have a lot of bodice- ripping going on. She avoids any salaciousness but still involves the reader in the heartbreak of the lives lost. There is violence but she doesn’t stop the narrative so she can describe every gush and gurgle. Men will love this book. It is written in a masculine style – my preference in a historical mystery. All of the characters are fully developed and captivating. Women will love this book-- the male investigator is heroic yet haunted, and the women are strong and intelligent. Banter usually found in 1940’s classic movies is well-suited to the story. I was absolutely captivated and enchanted by this novel and I cannot say that about the last 50 books that I’ve read this year. I can hardly wait to see where Ms. Kuhns takes us next.

Janet P. (Spokane, WA)

A mysterious trip to another era
The two days I spent reading A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns brought me racing back to the book anytime I had a chance. I'm a former high school English teacher and a lover of just about any genre, but my pet peeve is a mystery book that ends with the committer of the crime being an unknown so-and-so of whom the reader hears of for the first time when the brave hero solves the mystery. I detest being "hooked" for 300 pages only to be greatly upset by a simplistic ending.
This was certainly not the case with Ms. Kuhn's novel. I was truly "hooked" from about the 5th page even before I became aware that there was a mystery to solve. The protagonist, who traveled as a weaver and amateur sleuth during the 17th century in New England, along with all the other characters he meets, are believable and fascinating. I truly enjoyed every page of this book and was reminded of my positive reaction to the last mystery I read about two months ago entitled Mistress of Death. In both books the amateur detectives, who eventually solves some very complicated mysterious deaths, live in times of the past. Both protagonists must rely on observation, experience, gut response and an understanding of the human body, because modern forensic techniques would be of help only for detectives of the future.
In A Simple Murder, William Rees, our protagonist, is an "outsider" living in a "Shaker" community, a world very closed to outsiders. His son, whom he has abandoned, previously joined this community, so intriguing side-stories develop around this relationship as well as others. The characters are strong and believable and I became entranced with the colorful history of the Shakers included in this text. The plot truly thickens and I begin to mistrust numerous characters, thus, I absolutely couldn't put the book down. I now find myself unable to get the novel out of my husband's hands. I told him he'd enjoy it, but when I asked if I could borrow it to write this review, he responded, "well, I'm really into this book...I'd rather not put it down."

Nancy E. (Sturgeon Bay, wi)

A Simple Murder
Eleanor Kuhns has introduced a great hero in an unusual time and equally unusual community. As a retired librarian, I have read more than my share of mysteries and after a while all the plots tend in the same direction. Not A Simple Murder. Will Rees, an itinerant weaver searching for his son who has left the family farm, finds him in a Shaker community where a suspicious death has taken place. Will is asked to stay and find out what happened. Like petals on a spring flower, clues spring up and deepen the mystery. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to both book clubs and fellow mystery readers. I am looking forward to the next installment of this series.

...33 more reader reviews

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Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition. She lives in New York, received her master's in Library Science from Columbia University, and is currently the Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange County, New York. This is her first novel.

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