I have always loved mysteries, and even more so when they are set in an interesting historical locale. To my chagrin I tend to find either the historical or the mystery side lacking in most stories, so I was really glad to have discovered Eleanor Sullivan, the author of Cover Her Body. I greatly enjoyed the mystery component of the story, and absolutely adored the historical setting of it.
Consider this paragraph, one of the very first ones in the book: “Adelaide grabbed her dress from the hook on the wall, pulled it over her head, and moved on stocking feet through the cabin, her hem whispering across the wood plank floor. With a glance up the stairs where her sister slept, she bent to button her shoes, then snatched her shawl off a peg and slipped outside.”
Rarely does an author set the story so vividly in a certain time and place for me. Not a word too many, no unnecessary adjectives, no long descriptions, yet the picture was crystal clear to me.
The story of Adelaide, a young midwife living and working in the village of Zoar, is set in the year 1833. At that time the village was the home of Society of Separatists, also known as Zoarists, a group of German immigrants who came to America because of religious oppression.
They formed a communal society, purchased 5000 acres of land and managed to pay it off in a timely manner by producing goods and providing services, including assisting the state of Ohio in digging the canals for the Ohio and Erie Canal project.
These historical facts, as well as many facts about the daily life of Zoarites, are well integrated in the mystery of a 16-year-old girl, Johanna, found dead in the river. While the villagers would prefer to think of her death as an accident, Adelaide is convinced that Johanna was murdered.
Feeling somewhat guilty herself, since she supplied Johanna with a remedy for a “woman’s ailment,” as well as worried about the possible role her own husband Benjamin might have played in the tragedy, Adelaide is determined to ferret out the truth.
Things get ugly real fast after that and Adelaide faces some serious adversity. Will she be able to uncover the truth and, if so, at what price?
I’ve enjoyed the storyline, the writing style, the well-rounded characters, the detailed vignettes of daily life in Zoar, the ruminations on religious beliefs of the Zoarites; actually, there was no facet of the story that I did not enjoy. The book also made me want to know more about Zoarites, and luckily I was able to find a lot of the information on the web.
Everything that I read simply reinforced my belief that Ms. Sullivan performed a lot of research on Zoar in addition to using her personal ties to the story. The founder of the village, Joseph Bimeler, was namely one of her ancestors.
Cover Her Body is the first book in the series of “Singular Village Mysteries,” and I truly hope that the readers will not have to wait too long for more of them. I would highly recommend this book to any lover of mysteries, and particularly to those who love to learn new historical facts and enjoy strong female characters. Adelaide and the village of Zoar will definitely steal the hearts of such readers.
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views.