Posted By Claire on July 10, 2014
I described Eleanor Kuhns’ debut novel A Simple Murder as “one of the best mysteries I’ve read” and it won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award, so it was going to be a tough one to follow. However, I enjoyed Death of A Dyer just as much.
Like A Simple Murder, Death of A Dyer is set in the late 18th century, in the US, and has Revolutionary War veteran and travelling weaver Will Rees as its main character. Rees receives news of the death of his childhood best friend Nate Bowditch and is then asked by Nate’s widow to investigate his death to clear her son, the prime suspect. Rees hasn’t seen Nate for nearly 20 years and the more he digs into his life and death, the more he can’t believe how much his friend had changed. Everyone seems to have a secret and a motive for wanting Nate out of the way, from those he gambled with to his jealous wife who felt betrayed by Nate claiming a mixed race boy, the son of one of their slaves, as his. There seems to be danger at every turn, particularly when slave catchers turn up in town. Rees is also having to cope with his own personal problems, from his feelings for Lydia and his relationship with his son, to his “itchy feet” and urge to get back on the road and leave his troubles behind.
Death of A Dyer is a wonderful read. I love Rees’s character and I enjoyed being drawn into 18th century life in the US. It is a period of history I know very little about, so I can’t comment on the accuracy, but it appears that Kuhns has spent a significant amount of time studying the period, looking at the attitudes to slavery and “free” slaves, and also the history of dyeing. A brilliant combination of history, mystery, crime, drama and an exploration of personal relationships and human nature.
Will Rees feels at home. It’s been a long time since he last felt this way—not since before his wife died years ago and he took to the road as a traveling weaver. Now, in 1796, Rees is back on his Maine farm, living with his teenaged son, David, and his housekeeper, Lydia—whose presence contributes more towards his happiness than he’s ready to admit. But his domestic bliss is shattered the morning a visitor brings news of an old friend’s murder.
Nate Bowditch and Rees hadn’t spoken in many long years, but as children they were closer than brothers, and Rees feels his loss acutely. Asked to look into the circumstances surrounding Nate’s death, Rees simply can’t refuse. At the Bowditch farmstead, Rees quickly discovers that everyone—from Nate’s frosty wife to his missing son to the shy serving girl—is hiding something. But are any of them actually capable of murder? Or does the answer lie elsewhere, behind stones no one even knew needed unturning?
Death of a Dyer once again proves Eleanor Kuhns’s remarkable ability to spin a captivating story of a fascinating era and capture the light and darker sides of human nature on the page.
Series: Will Rees Mysteries (Book 2)
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (March 4, 2014)
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.
Click here to read my review of Eleanor Kuhns’ first book A Simple Murder.