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ABOUT THE BOOK
The Devil’s Cold Dish
By Eleanor Kuhns
Series: Will Rees Mysteries (Book 5)
Hardcover: 336 pages
June 14, 2016, $17.49
Will Rees is back home on his farm in 1796 Maine with his teenage son, his pregnant wife, their five adopted children, and endless farm work under the blistering summer sun. But for all that, Rees is happy to have returned to Dugard, Maine, the town where he was born and raised, and where he’s always felt at home. Until now. When a man is found dead – murdered – after getting into a public dispute with Rees, Rees starts to realize someone is intentionally trying to pin the murder on him. Then, his farm is attacked, his wife is accused of witchcraft, and a second body is found that points to the Rees family. Rees can feel the town of Dugard turning against him, and he knows that he and his family won’t be safe there unless he can find the murderer and reveal the truth…before the murderer gets to him first.
GUEST POST FROM THE AUTHOR
Witches and Witchcraft – Not just Salem
While I was researching Death in Salem, I visited this city several times. Will Rees, my amateur detective (and traveling weaver) visits Salem in the mid 1790’s. a full one hundred years after the trials, so I did not write about them. I alluded to them of course but by 1796 Salem is a cosmopolitan city.
But I couldn’t get the witch trials out of my head. Why did it happen? What happened to the people afterwards, especially to the people who saw their loved ones accused and, in some cases, hanged? How could a person ever recover from being targeted and accused of murder and witchcraft? Those questions formed the heart of The Devil’s Cold Dish.
The facts of Salem’s witch trials are these. In 1692, a group of girls including the daughters of the village minister Samuel Parrish claimed that they were being tormented by witches – and the girls accused some of the women in Danvers (this did not happen in Salem but within a small village just outside).
Reasons given for the hysteria are many. This was a superstitious age and belief in witches and witchcraft was widespread. Europe had already experienced several centuries of witch hunts. Then there was Tituba, a slave variously described as Indian or black, who told Samuel Parrish’s daughter and a group of girls stories which drove much of the content of their visions. (I find the easy belief in the veracity of these girls incredible. Did no one suspect they were lying?) Tituba’s testimony and was a direct cause of the eventual hangings of women described as her confederates. (Ironically, Tituba was set free.)
One theory suggests that a wet and cool summer, prime growing conditions for a fungus called ergot, meant the rye they used for bread was tainted. Ergot releases a toxin similar to LSD. So it is possible that people were genuinely suffering hallucinations.
Whatever the causes, before the fury ended,150 people were imprisoned and 19 people – and two dogs- were hanged. One old man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death.
Because the people executed as witches were not allowed to be buried in sacred ground, the cemetery in Salem has monuments bearing witness to the names. No one is sure where these people are buried. It is thought the families cut down many of the accused after they were hung and buried them in secret.
The hysteria ended in 1693 and after 1700 reparations began to be paid to the surviving victims and families of the executed. But belief in witches and the trials did not end. Accusations of witchcraft and hanging by mobs could and did still happen.
In 1783, Ann Lee, the spiritual heart of the new faith now commonly known as the Shakers, was arrested and charged for blasphemy. She and several other Believers were engaged in a missionary journey to Boston and they were dogged by harassment. One hundred years earlier she might have been hanged as a witch or devil worshipper.
The Shakers’ beliefs: in the equality of men and women, celibacy, and their choice to live apart from others not of their faith made them objects for continued persecution. Lydia, Rees’s wife and a former Shaker, would have been an easy target for someone with a grudge. So how does a man react when he sees his family threatened, when he is accused of murder, and his boyhood friends turn away, afraid or unwilling to help? That is the story I tried to tell in A Devil’s Cold Dish.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel. A lifelong librarian, she received her Masters from Columbia University and is currently the Assistant Director of the Goshen Public Library in Orange County New York.
Other books by Kuhns:
- A Simple Murder – 2012
- Death of a Dyer – 2013
- Cradle to Grave – 2014
- Death in Salem – 2015