cover image Steeplechase: A Homer Kelly Mystery

Steeplechase: A Homer Kelly Mystery

Jane Langton, . . St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne, $24.95 (295pp) ISBN 978-0-312-30195-8

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. Agent, Meg Ruley at Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Nov.)