Thoreau in Phantom Bog: A Henry David Thoreau Mystery. B. B.Oak. Kensington Books. September 2015. 320 pp. ISBN#: 9780758290274.
Phantom Blog is located outside of Plumford, Massachusetts and its name arises from a tale about a runaway slave who still haunts a bog that escaping slaves still have to occasionally cross when being pursued by formidable, relentless bounty hunters or owners. Now the tale comes to the attention of Henry Thoreau as a farmer who lived not far from the bog is found murdered. As he was a member of those assisting slaves attempting to flee to Canada, a group known as the Underground Railway, the assumption is that he was helping a slave when he met his violent demise. The question is obviously who killed him?
A friend of Henry, Julia, is also eager to help by becoming part of the Underground Railway but she is not so readily accepted because of its secretive nature and because she’s a woman. Add to that she is separated from her husband who is all for slave-catching. Julia, however, couldn’t care less because she’s in love with the town’s doctor, Adam, and having an adulterous affair with him. Now the two lovers are about to become deeply involved with Henry Thoreau in the aforesaid murder and later on a different murder.
Add to the cast of characters a Sheriff who is all accusatory bluster without much substance, an old granny who is bedridden but knows everything going on and predicts what is to come, a slave who practices voodoo medicine in a way that heals people who cannot be healed by a regular physician, a slave owner and catcher, and more intriguing people at every turn of the page.
B. B. Oak knows how to create a good mystery while lacing the story with enough tension and fascinating scenes that keep the reader riveted to the story to the very last paragraph. We also learn of the virulent and passionate sides taken in this divisive issue with very little middle ground in the mid-19th Century. Slaves were owned by men and women who saw this possession as a financial boon not to be interfered with or as a rabidly poisonous and demeaning practice that needed to be abolished.
Also there’s an interesting aside about the Thoreau and Emerson (Ralph Waldo for those not of a literary mind) families that might be fact or fiction – more mystery!
A good mystery slowly but powerfully demolishes the assumptions of characters and readers about the “who done it” presentation of pivotal characters. This is the remarkable gift of Henry (and the author’s vivacious skill) that makes him the singularly intriguing sleuth he is herein. Highly recommended historical mystery!!!