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by Margaret Miles

Bantam, 2001
ISBN: 0553582887

Reviewed by Jennifer Ashley

This book is the fourth in the Bracebridge series, which started with A WICKED WAY TO BURN.

The season is winter, and Charlotte Willett and her neighbors prepare to gather ice from Richard Longfellow's pond. During the community gathering, a rather unpleasant young man, Alexander Godwin, disappears. Charlotte finds him, head caved in and frozen solid, near the pond the next morning.

Godwin had been running errands for two eccentric women who live on Boar Island, in the river. The two women are descendents of the German man who'd built the large house there. Before the murder, Charlotte meets them and decides the women are both harmless and helpless, but she also sees mysterious swirling lights in their house and wonders if it is haunted.

When the murder is discovered, the townspeople blame Lem, the young man who works for Charlotte. Richard and Charlotte strive to protect him, believing in his innocence. They must contend with the minister who tries to court Charlotte, the lawyer with ties to the past in Bracebridge, and gossiping neighbors who are willing to accuse Lem based on a chance overheard conversation. Because Godwin had worked for the ladies of Boar Island, Richard and Charlotte direct their sleuthing that way, and discover some interesting mysteries.

The book also involves the secondary plot of Richard's sister, Diana, and her husband, the English Edmund Montagu. Diana's child has died, and she is sunk in depression, and now estranged from Edmund. The thread of Edmund's and Diana's story weaves through the series, and the author foreshadows Edmund's future dilemma in choosing between England and the colonies quite well. I, a hopeless romantic, want to propel the relationship plot between Charlotte and Richard a little faster, but I'm sure the author has her own designs.

This series vividly portrays life in early American Massachusetts; the author takes time to paint details and characters in the small town of Bracebridge. I think she does so at the expense of story: the pace of the action is quite slow, she brings in the points of view of many characters, and she often strays from the main plot.

That said, if a leisurely mystery full of character is what you want, this book is excellent, and a recommended read.

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