"A lost church?" said Homer Kelly. "How could a church get itself lost? You mean it just pointed its steeple at the horizon and took off?"
His wife sucked her pencil. "I know it sounds strange." Strange or not, Homer and Mary are soon engaged in a steeplechase, a pursuit of the mysterious lost church. Luckily, the reader is in on the mystery. This sequel to The Deserter: Murder at Gettysburg is set in 1868 in the town of Nashoba, Massachusetts, where the daughter of the Reverend Josiah Gideon cares for her husband, James, brutally disfigured in the last battle of the Civil War. In the parsonage across the town green, the Reverend Horatio Biddle fumes at what he considers to be Josiah's brazen ways, while Mrs. Biddle spies on the outhouse in Josiah's backyard. Central to the story is a gigantic tree, the Great Nashoba Chestnut. Crucially intermingled with its fate are a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the story "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," and the nonsense rhymes of Mother Goose. Homer and Mary Kelly will once again delve deep into the past to unravel puzzles in the present. This novel includes charming drawings by the author and a number of nineteenth-century photographs.
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Jane Langton, winner of Bouchercon's 2000 Lifetime Achievement Award, is the author of seventeen other mysteries, all starring Homer and Mary Kelly. Most are illustrated with her drawings of the real places where her fictional events happen. She also writes children's books, notably the ongoing Hall Family Chronicles. She writes, gardens, and carries rocks in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
At the start of Langton's 18th Homer Kelly mystery (after 2003's The Deserter), the Harvard professor and sometime sleuth resolves to spice up Steeplechase, the book about Massachusetts churches he's writing, with a scandal. To that end, he and wife Mary piece together the story of a conflict between two 19th-century clergymen in fictional Nashoba, Mass., involving an ancient chestnut tree. Past and present play out in alternating sections. Period photos give faces to many of the characters, and Langton's own drawings add a touch of whimsy. The overall effect is like that of an antique album, albeit a somewhat fractured one. Similarly, the contrast of grim drama (in the person of disfigured Civil War veteran James Shaw) with comedy (in the figures of the Spratt brothers, who fly a hot-air balloon) gives an ambiguous, Edward Goreyesque feel to the proceedings. Absent is the tension of Langton's previous books, and even to call this disjointed tale a mystery would be a little generous. Still, fans will delight in her idiosyncratic characters and humor.
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