Thoreauly Mysterious

by Heather Mcmichael

HENRY DAVID THOREAU, you remember, was a homosexual, transcendentalist and jack-of-all-trades who retired to a pond near Concord to suck the marrow out of life and write pithy phrases like "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," and "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

Even without reading him, Alex Adler, former history professor turned handywoman and the protagonist of Karen Saum's latest mystery novel, probably agrees with such sentiments. Adler is a simple gal. She didn't set out to save the world, but following her heart dragged her into it. Like Thoreau, Adler also writes her memoirs in a cabin in that neck of the woods, albeit under very different conditions: She's snowed-in with a corpse.

Aside from wondering how the corpse got there and who did him in, she spends the bitter, three-day northeaster telling the story of her life and how the events therein lead to the now-deserted crime scene, the quirky religious community of Monte Cassino.

Monte Cassino--a.k.a. Rerum Novarum, and Camp Rarin' to Go--is a spiritual retreat for the hardworking, way station for refugees of every stripe and the impervious realm of the charismatic Santa Clara. She's not really a saint, but she's said to perform miracles with a chainsaw. Her funky island attracts fundamentalist rednecks, lesbian nuns, ex-cons and other outcasts, painted with candor and wisdom by Adler, who's scarcely nonplused that any one of them could be the murderer.

More than a formulaic mystery, author Saum has created an intriguing world of drop-outs and drop-ins, seekers and survivors. This book is the retelling of Murder is Germane, from Saum's trilogy of Brigid Donovan whodunits. From Alex Adler's perspective, the real mystery comprehends the intricacies of the human heart. TW

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