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Eleanor Kuhns Books In Order

Publication Order of Will Rees Mysteries Books

A Simple Murder (2012)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Death of a Dyer (2013)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Cradle to Grave (2014)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Death in Salem (2015)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Devil's Cold Dish (2016)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Shaker Murders (2019)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Simply Dead (2019)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
A Circle of Dead Girls (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Death in the Great Dismal (2021)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Eleanor Kuhns is an American author of historical fiction and mystery books best known for her Will Rees mystery series. She is a lifelong librarian and wrote her first story at the age of 10, and since then she’s written countless stories some published and never published. In 2011 she won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America competition for the best first crime novel. She graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in Library Science. She lives in New York and works at Goshen Public Library in Orange County as an assistant director.

A Simple Murder

A Simple Murder is the first novel in Will Rees Mysteries by Eleanor Kuhns, the winner of a contest set up by Minotaur Books and Mystery Writers of America. It’s an unusual book its settings as well as period, but in every other aspect, this is a classical, traditional mystery gem. The novel is set in a small Maine Shaker community in 1796, and the protagonist is an ex-soldier now a traveling weaver in search of his runaways teen son.

The Shakers were a popular charismatic Christian group created as an offshoot of the Quakers and shared most of their advanced concepts such as equality between the pacifism and sexes. But because the Shakers never reproduced, they are now “extinct.” However, back in the days, these communities were important ones; they took in children or other lost souls through abandonment or adoption. It’s through this process that the protagonist’s son, David, becomes a part of the Shaker community.

The author approaches her narrative in a very gentle way, but the several murders contained within this story prove that Eleanor Kuhns is every bit as brutal as Agatha Christie, who her stories had a few if not countless bodies pilling. And since the hero has had some experiences serving in the army and during his travels unraveling killers, he is asked to help in the investigation when one of the Shake sisters is murdered. The murder mystery and all the clues available seem to point to a killer within the community, but somehow the main character Rees cannot connect the murder case with a growing string of mysterious disappearances and deaths. He also cannot figure out how the Shaker sister was murdered in the serene Shaker grounds without anyone witnessing the killing.
Then there’s Rees’s assistant, Lydia Jane Farrell, who deserts the community for some unknown reasons, but provides a bridge between the Shaker sisters and Rees since the sisters are unaccustomed to speaking to outsiders. Even though the Shakers warmly treat Rees (they give him a room and a small board where he can set up and get to work), they also treat him with particular caution, something all good detectives experience in the mystery fiction world.

Lydia proves to be a brave and a fearless young woman working for Rees even though she eventually becomes emotionally involved in the case since she knows all the victims. The other main threat in the story is Rees reunion with his son who resents him dislikes him for deserting him after his mother. His son lives with his uncle and aunt, and it becomes clear that they haven’t treated him with the kindness anyone would hope for. The father and son story is wonderfully done.

While a Simple Murder is a traditional mystery novel with an actual summing up by the lead character in the very end, it’s also organic in such a way that the story unfolds brilliantly and each character growing from chapter to the next. The author has set the novel up as the first in the series, and while the story doesn’t seem to continue in the Shaker community, the thread the author leaves hanging, in the end, are tantalizing, setting the pace for the second book in the series, Death of a Dryer.

Death in a Dryer

In the second book in Will Rees series, Death in a Dryer, Will returns to his farm adjacent to Dugard, Maine. Now a traveling weaver after his wife died several years ago, he has discovered that his beloved sister and her husband neglected his son and his farm. Now his son David is running the farm while he prepares his look while Lydia, from the previous novel, now is the new housekeeper.

Will has feelings for Lydia but he isn’t ready yet to commit to another marriage, and so Lydia lives in a cottage in the farm, and the two do whatever they can to avoid the company. Back in the days, Will taught himself how to solve crimes, and this was evidently demonstrated in the first book in the series. When Rees childhood friend Nate is murdered, a lawyer informs Will that the dead man’s wife would like him to clear her son of any suspicion of the crime and so Will travels by wagon to investigate. He soon learns that Nate was a changed man from the last time the two had met, and preferred to spend his days in a cottage researching about dyes and deserting his family. He also gambled.

Nate’s son Richard has vanished, but also his half brother is also a suspect in the murder case, and Will provides him protection from slave catchers. Many dark secrets in the small Maine community are unearthed, and Will’s life is threatened more than once. Surprisingly, he accepts Lydia to help him in the murder investigation, and also David provides a helping hand as well.

The second in the Will Rees series is a brilliant read. Even though reunited, Will and his son David have a complicated father-son relationship that feels authentic and the 18th century setting in a small town in Maine is refreshingly unique and appealing. A true depiction of Eleanor Kuhns outstanding ability to weave a captivating story of an intriguing era and capture the darker and the lighter sides of human nature. If you enjoy reading historical mystery books, then Will Rees mysteries is the perfect series for you.

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