Sunday, July 01, 2012

Excellent historical mystery

Cover Her Body
By Eleanore Sullivan
ISBN: 978-1-936214-55-6
Trade Paper, a 2012 release
From Yesteryear Press.

During its history, the United States has periodically seen the rise of religious movements of various kinds.  Sweeping westward, religion followed the colonization of the land by emigrants from Europe. In the early nineteenth century, one such revival brought colonies of survivalists from Central Europe seeking relief from the persecution of powerful main-stream religions. One such small group came from Wurttemberg, Germany in 1817, with help from Quakers in England. They called themselves the Society of Separatists. Under the leadership of a single charismatic leader named Joseph Belmer, they became a strict religious group, tightly bound, with many rules of conduct that people today would find oppressive and questionable.  That is the background for this excellent historical crime novel.

The author is a descendent of the founder of Zoar, where the members of the Society of Separatists established their village on five thousand acres of owned land on Northeastern Ohio. When the novel opens it is 1830 and the village has completed the digging of a portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Redemption and self-denial are fundamental beliefs of the society, such that no one travels alone, children are housed in dormitories and life is strictly regulated.  A free-thinking woman like Adelaide, principal character in the well-written novel, is seen as a disturbing influence. When she finds a young village woman dead in the nearby river, an apparent suicide, the village is thrown into turmoil and the specter of outsiders is immediately raised. Adelaide, trying to adhere to the society’s principles but still determined to do the right thing by her dead friend, represents a danger to the leaders of the community.

Subsequent events and the persistence of Adelaide lead to greater disruption and a series of decisions that are able to calm the villagers yet create moral dilemmas. The sense of place is strong and the characters always meet the test of believability. Readers will come away from this novel with new understanding of the role of some women in a very specific society, but with lessons for our broader, modern society in which we all live.  Strongly recommended, I look forward to more life lessons of tolerance and thoughtful beliefs from this author.

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