Guest: Beth Kanell

Edith here, en route back from Malice Domestic and so very happy to welcome fellow New England Sister in Crime Beth Kanell as a guest on the blog. Beth has a new crossover Young Adult historical mystery out – and by crossover, I mean everyone should read it!

LongShadowFront-lowresI was luck enough to read an early copy and enthusiastically offered an endorsement: “Beth Kanell’s The Long Shadow is a beautifully written novel addressing themes of family, friendship, and the fight to end slavery in 1850s Vermont. Readers are transported back to that time of ceaseless women’s work in the kitchen and men making the decisions. Protagonist and narrator Alice keenly feels the injustice of her own life and that of slaves being pursued as they travel north toward freedom, and does whatever is in her power to change the status quo. Adults and teens alike will savor this well-researched tale of a teenage girl, her best friend, and their  black friend Sarah, who still isn’t safe from bounty hunters even in the snow-covered villages of Vermont.” Take it away, Beth!

Risk and Loss

Writing at the young adult (YA) edge of mystery keeps me asking myself questions about secrets, about risk, and about violence. Our contemporary young adults are exposed daily to terrifying amounts of could-be-us news, from school shootings to drug issues to “ordinary” death by drinking alcohol. Sometimes it feels unfair to burden these, as well as adult readers, with even one more death.

But the gift of a novel is that the meaning of a death can shine, in ways that are harder to see in daily life. In giving this to readers, I hope — and I think many other mystery authors do, too — that there will be an overlap in the heart, to ease some of the pain each of us encounters. More than ever, that’s the case for my fourth “history-hinged” Vermont mystery, The Long Shadow.

North Danville Vermont
Danville, Vermont, the location Beth borrowed for fictional North Upton

For Alice Sanborn of North Upton, Vermont, life in 1850 has been pretty easy so far. Sure, her mother relies on Alice for full participation in the challenges of pre-Civil War homemaking, and Alice also helps with some farm chores. But her school is nearby and friendly, plus she has her best friend Jerushah across the road and another close friend they both care about, Sarah, whose family is still enslaved in the far-away South. The worst Alice deals with is the town drunk trying to paw her outside the tavern.

Until danger comes to her own village in the form of a bounty hunter whose presence seems to threaten Sarah — spinning Alice and Jerushah, with the handsome and mysterious Solomon McBride, into a risky adventure of their own.

There are three deaths in The Long Shadow. The first is a family tragedy, but not an uncommon one for 1850, and Alice’s “growing-up task” is to face the sorrow involved and do what she can to ease the burdens of her brother and his wife. But the second has terrifying ramifications for Alice’s family, and the third will shape the rest of her life as she steps forward into the responsibilities of anti-slavery Vermont.

Elizabeth, from Small Adventures of a Little Quaker Girl, 1857-1872, by Rebecca Nicholson Taylor (a cousin of Beth Kanell’s)

To spin this story and handle the moral disaster of enslavement, and the late response of many Americans to the nation’s abiding “sin,” demands adherence to history’s truths. So I spend a lot of time in research, looking for the conditions of African Americans in Vermont at the time, and the complications of country life: How fast can a horse pull a laden sleigh in a blizzard? How far? Which official handles murder charges? With how much authority?

Also, because in Vermont – as in many other places – the leadership of early anti-slavery thinking often came from Quakers (hello, Edith Maxwell!), the role of the farm and Quakers at Rokeby in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont, comes into the background of The Long Shadow. It will come to the foreground in later books in this “Wind of Freedom” series!

_Going to Meeting_
Photo also from Small Adventures of a Little Quaker Girl.

But first, let’s watch Alice begin to pry open the mysteries that surround her, as she buries her brother’s secret and asks her friend Jerushah, while Sarah listens:

“Did you know there is a doorway in your cellar?”

She frowned in puzzlement. “Do you mean the doorway to where Papa keeps the extra barrels of cider? Back behind the stairs?”

“No, another one. I noticed it last week, and there is one in our cellar, too. I think they may connect underground. Can we test them?”

Jerushah flashed a look over my shoulder. “Mama is coming back inside. I can hear her in the passageway. Hush. We’ll find a way later, after your sugaring-off. It’s all too busy now.”

Sarah agreed excitedly while placing a hand to her mouth.

The tunnel that the girls will explore, and later use in desperation, also appeared in my 2011 adventure The Secret Room, also set in North Upton but more than 160 years later – “today.” To make it easy for you to read The Secret Room, I’m giving away 10 copies (softcover) to the first 10 readers who request it, with their U.S. mailing address, at BethPoet at gmail dot com. I’m hoping to hear from you soon!

Readers: What do you know about the Underground Railroad? As an adult, do you read YA mysteries? If so, why? If not, why not?Beth Kanell

Beth Kanell lives in northeastern Vermont, with a mountain at her back and a river at her feet. She writes mysteries, poems, and book reviews, and digs into Vermont history to frame her “history-hinged” adventure mysteries: The Long Shadow, The Darkness Under the Water, The Secret Room, and Cold Midnight. She shares her research and writing process at Her mystery reviews are at She’s a member of both Sisters in Crime and the National Book Critics Circle, and can’t resist reading more mysteries.



31 Thoughts

  1. “can’t resist reading more mysteries” I love this quote about the author. Yes, I read YA stories. A well-written book is a well-written book!

    1. That’s insightful, Sherry — and it makes me wonder whether the vulnerability of teen protagonists means we feel their pain more acutely.

  2. Congratulations, Beth! It sounds like a wonderful book and I look forward to reading it. I do read and enjoy YA books. Sometimes they have more depth to them than adult books.

    1. That’s insightful, Sherry — and it makes me wonder whether the vulnerability of teen protagonists means we feel their pain more acutely.

  3. Excellent! I do read YA, because there are some superb writers writing only in that genre. Very much looking forward to reading this book!

    1. Vida, good to hear from you, and I’m excited that you’ll be reading The Long Shadow. Any other titles in the YA crossover area that you’d like to recommend?

    2. Edith, thank you for the introduction and guest opportunity! I do want to note that your Quaker Midwife series is one I recommend to teens — so, YA “crossover” goes in both directions …

  4. I enjoy reading in the YA genre, which I believe is– and always has been– the bravest and bendiest genre for novelists. Your book sounds marvelous, Beth, and I wish you wonderful luck with it. Your audience is at an important time of life, and they need thoughtful stories like this one to ponder.

    1. Ramona, thanks for your comment — I agree with you about the YA genre. And your coaching on character-through-plot has been amazing in helping me see how I want to write!

  5. “The Long Shadow” sounds like an awesome book and one that I would definitely love to read.

    I would say my knowledge of the Underground Railroad is middle of the road. I do enjoy when there’s reference to or written about in books. I love when facts of history are woven into books.

    I think if we enjoy reading that we love to read period. I enjoy reading all genre of books. I will even occasionally read sci-fi which is my least favorite just to make sure my tastes haven’t changed with age. 🙂 Honestly, I think we can all relate more to YA books now more so than years ago. Since the youth of our generation have been subjected to more and thanks to technology more in tuned to current events (good and bad) of the day, I think its made their reading more advanced at an earlier age. That means that books written for the YA of today are more enjoyable by even us advanced adults. Maybe it’s that books written for YA now is more in tune with our young adulthood and reminds us of our coming of age. Whatever it is, I know I really enjoy reading them.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I think you are totally on target about the increasing importance of YA books — and how much in tune they are with young adulthood. Good insight about our coming of age, too! Thanks for sharing this!!

  6. I do read YA books and love ones rooted in real history. I will look for these.

  7. Whatever I learned about the Underground Railroad has receded into the misty back of my brain. But I’m sure if I spent some time I could drag it out.

    And I’ve been known to lose myself in a good YA book.

    Congratulations on the release!

  8. Welcome to the Wickeds, Beth, and congratulations on the publication of The Long Shadow. I’m here in Virginia today with my daughter-in-law who is a young adult librarian. I’ll be telling her all about your book.

    1. Thanks for the welcome, Barb! I’m glad to do a Skype visit if your daughter-in-law has a group of teen readers who might be interested. I bet you are NOT confronting snow in Virginia today … oh my, sometimes Vermont is very challenging (as my characters can assure you).

  9. I tend to review middle grade and adult novels. That’s enough to try to keep up with. However, this sounds like a Young Adult novel I’d enjoy for sure.

  10. I love well-written YA books and I love to learn more about history. Good combo you have.

  11. I occasionally read YA but have a hard time gleaning the well written ones. No one likes to waste time on a bad book. The Long Shadow sounds wonderful. Thank you for the chance to win.

    1. Hi Daniele. I’m glad you look carefully for the good books — I totally agree about not reading the others! I hope you’ll enjoy The Long Shadow. If you’d like to win a copy of The Secret Room, please e-mail me (see the end of the post for the email) with your mailing address. Thanks!

  12. Yes, I do read YA books, if a book interests me, I don’t care if it’s a YA novel. I really like reading historical fiction and especially the Civil War era. I have read about the Underground Railroad and it’s really an interesting subject.

    1. Oh, good! You’re my ideal reader … Perhaps The Long Shadow will fill nicely into your reading. I think the Underground Railroad and how we frame it can say a lot about American dreams and hopes. Thanks for commenting!

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