Granny Cradles

In The Shaker Murders I used a granny cradle to comfort one of my ill characters. I saw one of these large cradles at a display of Shaker materials at the New York State Museum.

These cradles look like baby cradles although they are much larger. No one is quite sure what these items were used for but it is assumed they were used for people who were ill or at the end of life and in need of comfort.

I chose to use the cradle this way.



Today was a banner day for me. I received two wonderful reviews of The Shaker Murders, one included in Library Journal.

Author Eleanor Kuhns Weaves A Mystery

Traveling weaver, Will Rees arrives in Zion, Maine, a Shaker community, amidst a series of bizarre accidents. As Rees investigates, he begins to experience nightmares where his family is in jeopardy. In this sixth book in the Will Rees series, author Eleanor Kuhns has readers racing along to learn if Rees can uncover the truth before those haunting dreams become a reality.

Lifelong librarian and award-winning author Eleanor Kuhns’s latest novel in her Will Rees series, The Shaker Murders (Severn House), was inspired in part by a fortuitous trip to Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, a tiny religious community that was established in Maine in 1783.

If Kuhns hadn’t created this popular series when she did, there’s a fair chance there would be no Shakers left to share their traditions firsthand. Due to the sect’s adherence to celibacy, the practice of marrying out, and expulsion from the community for violating rules like refusing to shave one’s beard, today Sabbathday Lake is home to only three remaining Shakers.

“All I knew about the Shakers was that they made furniture,” Kuhns tells Library Journal. “In the tour, I learned they were celibate, and they took in orphans.”

Kuhns was so intrigued by what she saw, she bought every book in the gift shop and embarked on a period of research that yielded more than a few surprises.

“Who knew that their herbal business was so successful that in today’s money, it would be a billion dollar industry or that they were accomplished inventors with hundreds of patent applications?” Kuhns says enthusiastically.

The more research Kuhns conducted, the more she wondered about the people who joined the Shaker community. Kuhns learned that some converts were driven by faith, others saw it as an escape from societal conventions like marriage, and then there were those who used the sect to hide out – fertile motivation for an author of mysteries.

Returning readers of Kuhns’s mystery fiction have come to expect to learn a few things along with seeing a murder get solved. “Every book features at least one job that was important to the times. In Death of a Dyer I describe dyeing, in Cradle to Grave it is barrel making, and in Death in Salem I focus on sail and rope making,” Kuhns says.

In The Shaker Murders, Kuhns introduces the reader to the art and cultural history of weaving. “One of my hobbies is weaving, so I made my main character a weaver,” Kuhns says, adding, “I knew how to thread and set up the treadles and follow a pattern, but after I started working with Rees, I studied the history of weaving, an unbroken line from the Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution.”

In The Shaker Murders, the craft of weaving offered her protagonist, Will Rees, some connective material to move the story along. “Weaving gives Rees the chance to interact with women as well as men. That would have been much more difficult if I’d made him a bricklayer,” Kuhns adds.

Kuhns explains that in the Shaker community, women wove in the home, but some male weavers were itinerant, which enables Kuhn’s murder-solving protagonist to have a reason to leave the small town in Maine. To further aid in this, Kuhns made him a traveler, so he has more than one motivation to hit the road.

In her earlier works like Cradle to Grave, Rees solves a murder just north of Albany that involves the Shaker community there. In Death in Salem, Rees visits Salem, Mass that was, at that time, the sixth largest city in the U.S. as well as the wealthiest due to trade with India and China.

For Kuhns, one character remains with her above the others. Kuhns created Calvin, a mentally challenged man whose untimely end hit her the hardest. “I don’t think the developmental disabilities are new in modern times, so his murder is even more heinous and emotional wrenching because he is an innocent.”

When Kuhns originally sought inspiration for Rees, she found it in her late father, himself an adept craftsman. “Part of Will Rees is completely my father: his sense of justice, his honesty and his ability to work with his hands. He was also a big red-headed fellow with anger issues,” Kuhns says.

For Kuhns, the process of drawing upon her father has been educational. “Since writing about Rees and doing such intensive research into earlier times, I feel I understand my father a lot better. I hope he would be flattered.”

Traditionally, when Kuhns casts that role in her mind, she’s thought of Damien Lewis (from Homeland) and David Wenham (Faramir in the Lord of the Rings), but she jokes she may need to find someone younger as they’re getting on. With such leading men as inspiration for a character based on her father, how could he not be?

The second review came from the Historical Novel Society.

The Shaker Murders (A Will Rees Mystery)


Will Rees and his family are hiding in Zion, a Shaker community in Maine, and hoping to find safety, but what Will discovers is a secretive sect and two murders that threaten the security of his family in Kuhns’ sixth Will Rees Murder series. Will, his pregnant wife, Lydia, and their children fled their hometown of Dugard and are in Zion because of an accusation of witchcraft against Lydia, and Will’s own murder charges—from which he cleared his own name (The Devil’s Cold Dish, 2016). Shortly after arriving in Zion, Brother Jabez is found dead in the laundry. Will is certain it was murder, but Elders Solomon and Jonathan push it off as an accident. After Will finds the murder weapon, and a second Shaker—a simple-minded young man—is killed Will is certain that the murderer is one of the Shakers themselves. Complicating matters is the matter of Lydia’s former farm, which the Shaker community believes belongs to them but Will hopes to take for his family.

While this is a murder mystery, what really sets this book apart are the descriptions of daily life and expectations for 18th-century Shakers and their community—including guests that they welcome with open arms, if only because they hope these people will sign the Covenant and join. As in any whodunit, there are plenty of shady characters, from hired farm boys to newcomers to the community up through the elders themselves, all lending to throw Will, and the reader, off course. Though there are many references to previous books, first-time readers to this series will have no trouble jumping in. Ultimately, Kuhns uses the Shaker beliefs to craft an interesting and suspenseful ending to this delightful story.

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.