cover image Blood Red Roses

Blood Red Roses

Margaret Lawrence. Twilight, $23 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97352-1

In her second historical mystery, Lawrence (Hearts and Bones, 1996) returns to the small village of Rufford, Maine, where the life of young widowed midwife Hannah Trevor threatens to unravel in 1786. Before she can determine how to respond to meddling officials who want to indenture her deaf and mute daughter, Jennet, Hannah's philandering Loyalist husband, James Trevor, who was supposed to be decently buried in Canada, turns up and gets his throat slit. Nearby, the body of a woman who believed she was James's legal wife is discovered, cut down by an ax murderer along with her three children. Circumstantial evidence makes Hannah a good suspect for all the murders, but Daniel Josselyn, whom gossip correctly names as Jennet's father, becomes curious about a secretive servant said to be ""oddly excited"" the night of the murders and a hunchbacked itinerant seamstress who speaks in riddles. Still, he's no match for unethical local authorities willing to frame Hannah for their own ends. Lawrence constructs a dark and dangerous world filled with ominous secrets and with public violence that is triggered by ruinous taxation. The strength of her prose is in the details: deftly drawn minor characters and historical bits that add texture. A complex interplay of betrayals and bonds leads to an extended, twisting resolution. Despite its large measure of melodrama and romance, Lawrence's second historical mystery is an involving, provocative story with an overarching feminist theme. 35,000 first printing. (Oct.)