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THE NINTH DAUGHTER
By Barbara Hamilton
Berkley Prime Crime, 2009 ($14.00)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Abigail Adams, future first lady of the newly-founded country of the United States of America, is, in pre-revolutionary Boston, a housewife, worried that her husband John's membership in the Sons of Liberty will be discovered, with dire consequences. In 1775, Boston is a town divided by those loyal to the Crown and rebels, or patriots, depending on your point of view, who seek freedom to govern themselves.
Using a well-know historical figure like Abigail Adams is a risky proposition, but from what I know about her and her life, and American history at the time, Hamilton does a brilliant job of combining truth and fiction into a fine story. Other historical characters like John's fiery-tempered cousin Sam Adams and silversmith Paul Revere have parts to play in the story, and their characterization rings true.
One morning as Abigail is on the way to the market, she senses something wrong as she approaches the modest home of fellow patriot Rebecca Malvern. Rebecca had left her wealthy and domineering husband, creating quite a scandal. Many of her friends turned their backs on her, but not Abigail and John. She lived with them for a short time, and Abigail introduced her to the reality of 18th century housekeeping without servants. Finally she'd found lodging in a small house behind the dwelling of the Tillett family, where she toiled for the owner and secretly wrote letters supportive of the Sons of Liberty. Abigail approaches Rebecca's unlocked door gingerly, and discovers the body of a woman face down in a pool of blood, her body cruelly savaged. The woman is a stranger to Abigail, and a search of the house reveals that Rebecca is missing, along with a journal that could implicate all the Sons of Liberty.
She rushes to the nearest friend's house, that of Paul Revere, and blurts out the bad news, including the missing journal. Dr. Warren and Cousin Sam are also there. Instead of sending for the British authorities, the men clean up the bloody scene and carry the woman's body upstairs to Rebecca's bed. They also conduct a frantic search for the missing journal, to no avail. The woman is identified as the wife of a wealthy crony of the Massachusetts governor, Perdita Pentyre. Perdita was the mistress of Col. Leslie, the commander of the British garrison on Castle Island, just off the Boston shore. Her husband is aware of the connection, and approves of it for political and business reasons. When the British officers are finally alerted to the murder, they realize the crime scene has been sanitized. John Adams becomes the number one suspect in her murder, mainly because of his suspected anti-Crown sentiments. Abigail knows she must find Rebecca and solve Perdita's murder, or her husband may hang. Hamilton does an excellent job of describing the sights, sounds, and smells of colonial Boston and the surrounding countryside. She does not paint the British, the loyalists, and the patriots in black and white, but in shades of gray, as individual people with both good and bad qualities. To her own amazement, Abigail and The British Lt. Coldstone become friends, and he and his aide, Sgt. Muldoon, help her in her quest to find Rebecca and capture a serial killer. When she goes into the countryside to look for her friend, it is young Sgt. Muldoon who escorts and assists her when her quest becomes dangerous. She learns the color of one's coat does not define the nature of a man.
Abigail is a marvel of strength and endurance, caring for a large and still growing family, working from early morning to late at night to keep house with no modern conveniences and only the help of one young girl. She is good wife, helpmate, and sounding board for her husband, keeping up with social proprieties, caring for the less-fortunate, while still having time for crime-solving. As she famously told her husband as he prepared to help form the new government, "John, remember the ladies." She is one lady who will long be remembered. This is the first in the Abigail Adams mystery series, and I look forward to finding out what this remarkable lady will do next.
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