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SINS OF A SHAKER SUMMER
By Deborah Woodworth

Avon, 1999

Reviewed by J. Ashley

In this installment of the Sister Rose Callahan series, Rose, the eldress of the North Homage Shaker community near Languor, Kentucky, is baffled by the sudden illness of two little girls who ingested an unknown substance while playing in the woods. Her search for what they might have eaten sets her at odds with the brethren and sisters who work in the herbarium preparing medicines sold to the outside world to provide income for the Shaker community. Any implication that the girls might have been poisoned with something cultivated there meets with resentment.

Rose also must deal with Sister Patience, who seems to have been granted the gift of healing. Patience often slips out to the woods to the holy mountain, a site of past mystical feasts, and Rose observes Patience partaking of invisible food and drink. But Patience also begins to use her gifts to accuse each member of the community of sins, real or imagined.

After a brethren of the herbarium dies, possibly poisoned, Rose carefully watches the herbarium, certain the answer lies there. Then Patience is found in the woods, murdered, and Rose fears the evil that has risen once again in her community. I like Rose. She is a resourceful, strong-willed woman, who, though often put at odds with her counterpart, Wilhelm, the community elder, bravely faces problems thrown her way. While she is deeply religious, she possesses acute common sense, which enables her to work through the mysteries surrounding the Shaker village.

Woodworth portrays the Shakers as real people, drawing in-depth characters and weaving in Shaker daily life unobtrusively with the story. Rose is realistically hampered by rules and the rigid routine of the Shaker community, but manages within that structure to carry out her duties and investigate problems, without losing her deep belief in the ways of the Shakers.

I found this book more intriguing than the previous volume, A DEADLY SHAKER SPRING, though I thought Rose more stumbled on the solution than deduced it. But all in all, this was a satisfying read. I recommend this book as well as the rest of the series.


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