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!
I 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.
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.
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!
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 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 BethKanell.blogspot.com. Her mystery reviews are at KingdomBks.blogspot.com. She’s a member of both Sisters in Crime and the National Book Critics Circle, and can’t resist reading more mysteries.