What do you picture when you think of Puritans? Do you picture stern, somber characters in plain attire? Well, forget that image when you pick up “Death of a Dancing Master”– M.E. Kemp’s mystery set in Boston in 1693.
The Puritans Kemp describes are as merry a mixture of lusty, flustered, curious and clever people as you’ll find in any contemporary novel.
There’s Hetty Henry, twice widowed and a woman of independent means. She runs a shipping business that she inherited from one of her husbands, and solves mysteries as a sideline. Hetty’s cousin Abigail married Puritan minister Cotton Mather, and that relationship allows Hetty entry to the workings of the church community.
Her partner in detection, Increase Cotton, is Mather’s cousin and a pastor in his own right. Together Hetty and Increase handle investigations of ‘situations’ for Mather. Their latest situation involves the murder of Francis Perkney, instructor of dancing and fencing. A minister stands accused; he was found standing over the body with a foil in his hand. A religious tract written by Mather’s father about the evils of dancing was found on the scene and Mather fears his family’s reputation will be tarnished by association.
As Hetty and Increase investigate, they find plenty of potential suspects and many reasons for someone to want the dancing master dead. But which one did the deed? Can they solve the case without becoming victims themselves?
Kemp populates Boston with a colorful cast of characters. Her descriptions moved them off of the page and into my head. My personal favorites were the team of siblings Hetty thinks of as Ferret and Ferretina.
Our detectives uncover secrets all over town. Hetty lets us in on some secrets of her own as well. As we follow the case, we meet tavern maids and businessmen, orphans and the elite. Kemp’s easy-to-read style makes the story move along nicely, with a few interesting side trips along the way.
This story’s strong female lead will appeal to female readers. While not strictly a romance, the romantic overtones buffer the story of murder. Don’t look for a high-intensity thriller. Kemp delivers a softer side of mystery with a well-plotted and entertaining narrative.
You won’t think of Puritans in quite the same way after seeing them through Kemp’s eyes. But if you like mysteries with a historical bent, you’ll enjoy “Death of a Dancing Master” by M.E. Kemp.
“Death of a Dancing Master” by M.E. Kemp
Published by L&L Dreamspell