The Shakers

With the upcoming release of The Shaker Murders in two weeks, I thought I’d review some of the facts about the Shakers.the shaker murders

First, they are still in existence, but there are very few. Although there were eleven when I began my research, there are only three now. These three live in Sabbathday Lake in Maine, near Alfred. They live as the Shakers have always lived, although the schoolhouse is now a library/repository of Shaker history.

Begun by Mother Ann Lee in the 1700’s, they are in effect an evangelical offshoot of the Quakers. (The name Shakers means Shaking Quakers). Ann Lee brought her small band to the new country from Great Britain in 1774. They set up their first colony just outside of Albany, calling it Niskayuna. The remnants of it are still there although the fields are now under the Albany airport.

The Shakers were celibate and men and women were separated. It was a top down organization and each ‘Family’ was run by two Elders and two Eldresses who were themselves under the main headquarters. (Later on that was New Lebanon in New York.)

Perhaps because their spiritual inspiration came from a woman, from the first, men and women were of equal importance. Eldresses were of equal clout in running the community. (This in a time when women could not inherit from their husbands unless he specifically named her in his will. Otherwise, she was in the care of her eldest son.) To keep their numbers up, they took in apprentices as well as orphans. Boys were taught to read, write and ‘figure’ in the winter while girls were educated in the summer. (Another difference from the outside world. Illiteracy was epidemic and girls especially were not taught to read.) By the time the children grew up, they knew how to run a farm as well.

The work was divided along gender lines, with the Brothers working outside and the Sisters doing the cooking, cleaning and so on. They also made whips and brooms (the Shakers had the patents on a number of items including the round broom and the humble clothespin), sold seeds and had a very profitable business in herbs, primarily medicinal. As anyone who has priced Shaker furniture knows, it is very costly.  But it is perfect. The Shakers soon developed a reputation for perfection. They had a saying: ” Hands to work, hearts to God”. Work was valued and good work served to honor God. An imperfect job could not be offered to Him.


Goodreads Giveaway -The Shaker Murders

I am happy to announce I am running a giveaway on Goodreads for the newest Will Rees. The Shaker Murders begins with Rees joining Lydia and his family at Zion the Shaker community. The next morning he is awakened by a scream. His roommate has been assaulted: hit in the head and then dropped in the laundry tub to drown.

The Elders and Eldresses prefer to believe it is first an accident, and then with the death of a disabled boy, the work of someone from the World. But Rees begins to believe there are secrets within the community itself that has lead to the murders.

The Shaker Murders is officially released February 1. Be one of the first to get your copy.

the shaker murders

The Shaker Murders – Reviews

The new Will Rees, number 6, will be released Feb. 1. The reviews are beginning to come in and they are good.

So happy!

As a librarian, I know that libraries, with their limited budgets, purchase primarily books with good reviews and starred reviews are even better.

Here is the review from Publishers Weekly:

Authentic period detail and nuanced characterizations lift Kuhns’s fine sixth whodunit set in late-18th-century Maine. In 2016’s The Devil’s Cold Dish, weaver Will Rees and his family suffered a series of calamities, which included his being accused of murder and their being forced to sell their home. Now they hope for a respite from turmoil and violence by joining the Shakers, but that proves short-lived after the body of one of the Shakers is found in a bathtub. To Will, the signs of intentional violence—a bloody wound on the dead man’s head—are clear, but the Shaker leadership insists that the death was accidental and refuses to call in outside authorities. After Will finds the murder weapon, a poker with traces of blood and hair on it, the church elders, knowing of his experience as an investigator, allow him to look into newcomers to the community as possible suspects. The stakes rise when another body turns up, this one even more clearly the product of foul play. Kuhns makes the most of the cloistered Shaker community setting in this top-notch outing. (Feb.)


And from two library journals:


The Shaker Murders. By Eleanor Kuhns. Feb. 2019. 224p. Severn, $28.99 (9780727888372); e-book (9781448301720)


Weaver Will Rees seeks sanctuary for his family after fleeing his home and charges of murder against him, and witchcraft against his wife, Lydia, as described in The Devil’s Cold Dish(2016). What could be safer for his heavily pregnant wife and their five adopted children than the Maine Shaker community of Zion? But the day after Rees arrives at Zion, one of the brethren is found murdered. Within days, a teenager and an elderly woman also are killed, and attempts are made on the lives of the murdered woman’s husband and finally on Will himself. Shaker elders want to believe the killer is a visitor and not one of their own, while Rees is doubtful. Reasoning that subsequent crimes are attempts to cover up the original murder, he is faced with solving the killings as a means of ensuring his family’s future safety. This sixth Will Rees entry illuminates post-Revolutionary Shaker life, providing backstory that gives Rees nightmares, as it hints at the future for the family in this readable historical-mystery series.

And Kirkus

A traveling weaver and crime solver finds danger in a Shaker village.

It’s 1796. Will Rees has taken refuge in the community of Zion, Maine, after being forced to flee from his farm in Dugard, where he’d been accused of murder and his wife, Lydia, of witchcraft. Although he proved himself innocent (The Devil’s Cold Dish, 2016), his wife is still in danger. So he’s given his farm to his eldest son and taken a heavily pregnant Lydia and their six children to Zion. Even though they haven’t signed the Covenant, they must live as celibate Shakers. Rees shares his quarters not with Lydia but with Jabez, whose body is soon found drowned in a laundry tub. Rees knows Jabez’s death was no accident as soon as he sees the bloody wound on his head. When elders Solomon and Jonathan finally agree to let Rees ask questions, they express the hope the killer was an outsider. Rees is sure it is one of the brethren and is worried for the safety of his family. But he hasn’t told Lydia that he’s given their home away because it’s unsafe for her to return. The next to die is mentally challenged young Calvin, who may have seen the killer while sneaking out at night to visit the horses. Rees has a hard time controlling his temper while questioning the brethren because he knows they’re hiding secrets from him. When he finally admits to Lydia that they have no home, she reminds him that she inherited a farm nearby that the Shakers think should belong to the community. Desperate to find the killer and a home for his family, Rees resolves to follow every clue, especially when a young girl vanishes from Zion. Is she another victim of a ruthless killer?

An absorbing look at the early Shaker communities, whose very lifestyle set them up for eventual failure, through the eyes of an imperfect man doing his best for his family.

The only journal remaining is Library Journal. I hope that review is as good.

Speaking engagements

I had the pleasure of speaking at two libraries over the weekend. I met with a group at the Florida Library (in New York) on Friday and spoke at a fundraiser in Cohoes on Sunday. (It is pronounced Co-hoes, accent on the second syllable).

This is one of my favorite things to do. I do talk about my books, but the best part is always engaging the audience. I enjoy answering the questions and finding out what readers think. And it is sometimes surprising. We might have a long conversation about American History. Usually we talk about the Shakers. Or both shipping and witches in Salem. I did not realize how many see Will Rees, my main character, as self-centered.

I also get suggestions, some of which I take.Always a pleasure for me to get out into the world.

Will Rees #7 – Simply Dead

The Shaker Murders has not even been released yet and already I am doing the edits on the next one. The crazy world of publishing!

The Shaker Murders will be published in the U.S. February 1. (It is coming out this month in the UK. Go figure.)

And now the next one, Simply Dead, is complete and will come out in the U.s. in 2020. This is also set in Maine, during the winter though, and involves the Shakers once again.

I am working on #8 which I have titled A Circle of Dead Girls. I have set it against an early traveling circus. More information to follow.

Stay tuned.


The Luddites

A friend called me a Luddite the other day after a fit of yelling about computers.. (I am actually good with computers. But after my laptop crashed in June, I still haven’t gotten my finances straightened out. According to Quicken, I am $14,000 in the hole. Hence my rant about computers in general and online banking in particular.) But I digress.

The name-calling prompted me to research the Luddites. Yes, it was a real group – of weavers and other textile workers in the early nineteenth century. New weaving and spinning machines were coming into the factories.The owners said that the machines were more efficient – they probably were – and would make cloth cheaper – and they did. (The word ‘shoddy’ came into being shortly thereafter. Coincidence? I doubt it.)  The weavers were not opposed to the new machinery; that was not the issue. The problem was greed.

Weavers spent seven years in an apprenticeship before they could set up shop. Now they feared that the time and effort put into this craft was wasted. They had reason to worry. As the factory owners fired the men, they hired women and children, who they paid much less, to work instead.This was the beginning of six year olds working 14 hour days in a factory.

So the men protested. They blackened their faces and broke into the factories to destroy the new and expensive machinery. They purported to follow a fictional character called Ned Ludd(a stocking weaver) or another fictional personage King Ludd. Thus the name.

The British Government sided with the factory owners and made breaking machinery a capital crime. Soldiers were sent to quell the protests. A large number of men (both members of the protests and not) were swept up and accused of being Luddites. Those that were found guilty were either executed or transported. That ended the protests very quickly.

The situation was slightly different in the United States. The first textile factory came into  being in Massachusetts in 1814. Lowell, who had seen the textile machines in Great Britain, wanted to do the same in the U.S. (The city of Lowell is named for him.) He built his first factories beginning in 1816. But the  United States had a smaller population and there was not a large number of unemployed men so there was not the same labor pool. To solve the problem Lowell hired young women, who became known as mill girls, between the ages of 15 and 35. He of course paid them less than men. (To his credit, he chose not to employ children.) The mill girls were housed in company owned boarding houses, were strictly chaperoned and offered other ‘improving’ activities so the jobs had decent working conditions. This changed as the century wore on. The mill girls unionized, went out on strike a few times, and finally joined forces with another union.

Since my character,  Will Rees, is a weaver he is going to be affected by the increasing industrialization. In fact, will lose his profession in less than twenty years. He will be in his middle fifties by then, however, a fairly advanced age for the time, so he will have missed this huge change by only a few years.

Bouchercon and More

I haven’t blogged for awhile. Quite awhile. We moved and moving absorbs all of your energy, psychic as well as physical. Now we are unpacking which is almost as bad.

The week, yes, one week after moving, we left for Bouchercon in Florida. This was another wonderful conference. St. Pete’s was actually cooler than New York! And a wonderful breeze off the water kept the air pleasant. The Vinoy hotel was magnificent. I love this chandelier in the Grand Ballroom. It was huge. It looks like glass snakes, doesn’t it?


I attended several great panels. And, of course, I sat on a panel of my own. Jonathan Putnam (Lincoln and Speedwell mysteries) Christopher Huang ( a new author who writes about the 1920’s) Laura Anderson ( who writes about the Tudor Period). The panel was moderated by James Ziskin who writes the Elly Stone mysteries.


I also had the opportunity to talk to several authors I admire besides those on my panel. I greatly enjoyed meeting R. J. Koreto who writes the Alice Roosevelt and Lady Frances Folks mysteries set in Edwardian times.

As usual, I came away with a long list of authors that I now have to read!