The Devil’s Cold Dish, by Eleanor Kuhns

Jealousy is a terrible, powerful emotion. In The Devil’s Cold Dish, Eleanor Kuhns shows us just how destructive that emotion is. Will Rees has just returned from business in Salem, but is unable to settle into a routine. His pregnant wife is the object of rumors that she’s a witch. His sister and brother-in-law will not stop plaguing him for support. His son resents his absences. And then, a man who Will brawled with one morning is later found shot to death. The Devil’s Cold Dish is the fifth novel featuring Will Rees, but even though I haven’t read the other four, I had no problem diving into the book.

Everyone knows Will Rees has a temper. He was notorious in his youth for solving his differences with his fist. That reputation has come back to haunt him now that a man who quarreled with Rees is dead. In spite of the support of the local constable, Rees has to fight an uphill battle with most people to convince them that he’s innocent. The battle gets harder when another man that Will had argued with turns up dead. Worse, this man’s murder is set up to make it look like Rees’s wife had something to do with it. Rees has a lot of enemies in the town of Dugard, Maine—so many that it’s hard to figure out who has gone to such lengths to destroy Will’s life.

The plot crackles along in The Devil’s Cold Dish and things get more and more dangerous for Will and his family as the conspiracy develops. There are stand-offs and chases, confrontations and escapes. I couldn’t put the book down during the last third because I was so worried about Will. Kuhns had put her protagonist into such a tight corner that it seemed impossible for him to escape.

In addition to the delightfully tense plot, The Devil’s Cold Dish is a superior historical novel. It’s clear that Kuhns did a lot of research to find out what life was like in rural Maine after the Revolutionary War. Even while Will is trying not to be shot on sight by most of the town, cows need to be milked and dishes washed. I was always annoyed by books with amateur detectives who have nothing but time for their investigations, with plenty of time off from work, etc. That is not the case here and the verisimilitude of Will having to feed himself while on the run made the whole episode seem that much more real.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 14 June 2016.


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