Friday, November 12, 2021

Murder on Principle - An Interview & Review

I'm pleased to welcome Eleanor Kuhns to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Eleanor writes the Will Rees Mystery series. MURDER ON PRINCIPLE is the tenth book in the series.

Kathy: Will Rees is a weaver. How did you decide on this profession for your protagonist?

EK: Handweaving is one of my hobbies I own several looms, so I have actually woven cloth so I can describe it accurately. Weaving at that time was one of the few professions done by both men and women and I wanted Rees to have the opportunity to interact with women, which would be lees likely if he was a bricklayer of some other male job.

Kathy: In MURDER ON PRINCIPLE Will becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a Southern man, sent north to reclaim an escaped slave. Was writing about this aspect of our history a particular choice given matters in society today? Or was it such a big part of the time period of your book, it would be remiss not to center a mystery around it? 

EK: Slavery, abolition, and all the politics around it were huge at that time. In my earlier books, I avoided these issues as much as possible. It is a fraught subject even now and there are so many nuances to the discussion. But a visit to the Great Dismal Swamp (I set a mystery here in the previous book) persuaded me I had to tackle it. I wrote MURDER ON PRINCIPLE during the heart of the COVID shutdown, and, before vaccines and antibiotics, regular epidemics afflicted the population. Smallpox was particularly feared. It is true, by the way, that George Washington had the Continental Army fully inoculated against smallpox.

Kathy: Will has lots of dealings with the Shakers. I've always been interested in the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming. What made you make them a vital part of your series? Did you know a lot about them before writing your series? 

EK: Before I wrote my first book (A SIMPLE MURDER), I visited the Sabbathday Lake community in Maine, the only one with living Shakers. The tour, and the stories from the guide whose mother had been raised by this community, inspired me. I bought a copy of almost every one of the books in the shop and went on from there. Quite a few of my mysteries are set within or nearby that community. When I did my original research, there were eleven living Shakers. Now there are only three left.

Kathy: Historical mysteries require a special kind of research. What's your favorite research method?

EK: I do almost constant research because I never know what I will need to focus on in the future. That means I have a list of interests that are not fully fleshed out into ideas. When I decide what I am going to look at next, my research becomes more concentrated. The politics, the history, the fashions - all of that for a particular year/time. Also, sometimes the current book leads directly into the next. In DEATH IN SALEM, for example, I visited Salem numerous times. The witch trials are all around and although I write about a period one hundred years later, I began thinking about the effect on the people. It must have been so traumatizing for everyone. That led into THE DEVIL'S COLD DISH. And MURDER ON PRINCIPLE was a direct outgrowth from the events in DEATH IN THE GREAT DISMAL.

Kathy: What first drew you to historical mysteries?

EK: I love them. I read pretty widely but the clear winner is historical mysteries from all periods. Even as a child, I read historical fiction and science fiction. (Mysteries too, of course.) Something about the different worlds.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?  

EK: I used to write science fiction but far too busy with mysteries now.

Kathy: Tell us about your series. 

EK: Will Rees is a traveling weaver, a former soldier, and now, in the later books, a family man. In the first book, which is set with the Shaker community, he meets a former Shaker, Lydia, In one of those happy accidents, she takes over the book and becomes Rees’s wife. Together, they investigate the mysteries; sometimes within Zion, sometimes elsewhere as in Albany, New York (CRADLE TO  GRAVE), Salem, Mass (DEATH IN SALEM), or the Great Dismal Swamp as mentioned. Along the way, they adopt several children and have a few of their own.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

EK: Definitely Lydia. In this patriarchal time, she could not investigate on her own, but she is both smarter and warmer emotionally than Rees. She also gives me the opportunity to express the female perspective.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

EK: Will Rees is a lot like my father, red hair and all. I also wanted to write about this country and this period, between wars, but full of change as the United States found its way from a colony to a country in its own right.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

EK: I think most of us in the arts want to be acknowledged and have some respect for the effort we’ve out into our craft. It is also a form of self-expression. And since quite a few of my fellow authors have referred to their books as their babies, there is that in it too.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

EK: Agatha Christie, Barbara Hambly, Andre Norton, and William Faulkner.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

EK: BAD BLOOD by Marilyn Todd. I just finished SHERLOCK HOLMES VS CTHULHU by Lois Gresh..

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

EK: I love gardening, so when I describe Lydia’s garden I am really describing my own. I do everything with textiles: I quilt, do needlework, sew, knit, and of course weave.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

EK: Coffee, tea, bread and cheese.

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

EK: The next Will Rees, THE LONG SHADOW, is with the publisher now and I am working on the one after that. I also have written the first in a Bronze Age Crete murder mystery. My agent has that now.

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

EK: I want to make a reader feel the way I felt when reading a good book as a child. It is harder to experience the thrill of discovery as an adult but I try and hope I succeed sometimes.


To learn more, check out these links:


The Tenth Will Rees Mystery

A body found on Will Rees's property brings more trouble than expected. The well dressed man was a Southerner intent on recapturing Sandy and her son, slaves Rees recently helped bring to Maine. Even dead the man brings problems in the forms of smallpox and his sister. Mrs. Sechrest has traveled from Virginia with several slave takers intent on not only recovering her "property" but arresting Rees for theft. Rees will have to keep his wits about him as he tries to solve the murder, hide the enslaved pair, and protect his free born friends while remaining free himself.
Generally, I'm a stickler for reading a series in order, but sometimes an opportunity arises and I am compelled to jump in. While MURDER ON PRINCIPLE is the tenth book in the Will Rees Mystery series it is the first one I've read and it certainly won't be the last! The book works perfectly fine as a standalone. I was not lost at all, although I know I would have appreciated it even more if I had read previous books, especially the one released just prior. 
The well developed characters are interesting with complex inner dynamics and fascinating relationships. I love the relationship between Rees and his wife. Lydia is thoughtful, smart, and capable; a true partner. Rees and Rouge have a very interesting partnership as well and I enjoyed watching the changes it took as the book progressed. I found Granny Rose and Dr. Ned delightful and hope to see more of them in future books.

Although MURDER ON PRINCIPLE is a historical novel, so much is relevant today. While there may not be slave takers, racial equality remains an issue and one cannot help but relate smallpox to the COVID-19 of today. The mystery here was complex with victims most people would be happy to find dead. I wouldn't have minded one more! Making things more difficult is the fact that most of the suspects are friends of the protagonist. Rees, and the reader, will be faced with several ethical dilemmas.
MURDER ON PRINCIPLE is a complex historical mystery that captures your interest while making you consider your own morality.

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