Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

1930s U.S.A.


Death of a Winter Shaker

by Deborah Woodworth

A dead body is found in the herb drying house of the small and rapidly diminishing Kentucky Society of Believers (Shakers) community. Although only in her thirties, Trustee Rose Callahan is the most competent to uncover the perpetrator of this crime which cuts deep into the group’s deep dedication to peace, and gives ammunition to locals who believe the murder to be an outcome of a weird Shaker ritual. It does not help that autocratic Elder Wilhelm Lundel has been encouraging some members to take up long out of date Shaker practices involving trance dancing and speaking in tongues. The community’s fears escalate when their barn and old water house are burned, and another member is murdered. Is the villain one of theirs, or a vengeful neighbor?

Deborah Woodworth’s degree in the Sociology of Religion serves her well in this story. Although she has created a fictional Kentucky community, her recreation of the practices of Shaker beliefs ring true. Of note is the fact that the Believers consider women equal to men because they see God as possessing both male and female attributes. Yet, although they work and live side by side, they are not allowed to meet alone, nor touch, and chastity is considered the highest form of worship.

Depression era realities also are highlighted in the story. Not only did Believers dress, create their families, and worship differently, they often had better crops and made more food than their neighbors. Generous to all who came, the group was a target for many hungry, homeless folk who arrived at their doorstep professing their interest in becoming a Believer. This occurred chiefly in the Winter; in Spring many moved on.

This is one of a series of six Sister Rose Callahan Shaker mysteries.



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