Wishful Seeing by Janet Kellough – The mystery features an interesting sleuth, 59 year old Thaddeus Lewis, a minister for the Methodist Episcopal Church. He has accepted an assignment to the town of Cobourg and surrounding area. (Being set in 1853 the plot takes place before Canada was a nation. Now the province of Ontario the area was then known as Upper Canada.) He will ride a circuit conducting services in the small communities near Cobourg. To aid him is a young minister, James Small, nearing completion of his studies.
Needing a housekeeper Lewis invites his 15 year old niece, Martha Renwell, to join him in Cobourg. Glad to get away from the chores and drudgery of her family hotel Renwell becomes her grandfather’s housekeeper. She is a bright and spirited young woman starting to find her way in the world.
The plot differs from most mysteries I have read, whether set in the present of the past, in that there are descriptions of religious services led by Lewis. In particular, having been challenged by an itinerant Baptist preacher, Lewis meets his challenger to debate the issue of whether the Bible requires full immersion for baptism.
So many people gather for the debate that the meeting is moved outside the hall where the meeting had been scheduled. There is a spirited discussion whether the King James version of the Bible is an accurate translation from the original Biblical texts. They go on to argue scripture on what the Bible ordains with regard to baptism.
Not long after the Great Baptism Debate a man, Paul Sherman, is found murdered on an island in Rice Lake.
Suspicion falls on George Howell and his wife, Ellen. Witnesses have seen a man and a woman, dressed in a distinctive blue dress, rowing from the island. When the investigating officer goes to the Howell farm he finds Ellen washing such a blue dress with a significant stain that he believes to be a bloodstain.
While she is arrested and held in jail pending the trial her husband has disappeared. Known as the “Major” he has acquired a reputation for dealing in land needed for the Cobourg to Peterborough Railway under construction. Disputed titles were a staple of the Courts of that era.
Mrs. Howell lacks funds for a lawyer. Lewis, wanting her to have good representation and attracted to the lady, arranges for a young Toronto barrister, Townsend “Towns” Ashby, to take up the defence.
The book shifts to a legal mystery with Ashby as the plot proceeds through the Grand Jury hearing and later the trial for murder.
Ashby, while lacking experience, works hard to prepare for a trial bound to gain significant publicity.
It was intriguing to read how a trial was conducted 150 years ago.
Wishful Seeing is a good book. The characters and plot are interesting. I would read another in the series. It was the 3rd book from the shortlist for the 2017 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. I am finding the shortlist slower going this year.