Because I Could Not Stop for Death
An Emily Dickinson Mystery #1
By Amanda Flower
Author Website: amandaflower(.)com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
January 1855 Willa Noble knew it was bad luck when it was pouring rain on the day of her ever-important job interview at the Dickinson home in Amherst, Massachusetts. When she arrived late, disheveled with her skirts sodden and filthy, she’d lost all hope of being hired for the position. As the housekeeper politely told her they’d be in touch, Willa started toward the door of the stately home only to be called back by the soft but strong voice of Emily Dickinson. What begins as tenuous employment turns to friendship as the reclusive poet takes Willa under her wing.
Tragedy soon strikes and Willa’s beloved brother, Henry, is killed in a tragic accident at the town stables. With no other family and nowhere else to turn, Willa tells Emily about her brother’s death and why she believes it was no accident. Willa is convinced it was murder. Henry had been very secretive of late, only hinting to Willa that he’d found a way to earn money to take care of them both. Viewing it first as a puzzle to piece together, Emily offers to help, only to realize that she and Willa are caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse that reveals corruption in Amherst that is generations deep. Some very high-powered people will stop at nothing to keep their profitable secrets even if that means forever silencing Willa and her new mistress…. (From Goodreads)
“He planned to have a life deserving of a memoir.” (Regarding Henry Noble)
I was in awe of this author’s first historical cozy mystery! This series already rocks! To me, it is mesmerizing, at times heartwarming, at times heartrending. It is 1855, with slavery already an explosive issue. Each character is defined with excellence, people I would want to know. The settings of Amherst, and Washington DC sound so realistic that I often felt as if I were with Willa and Emily. I saw the delightful tearoom in Mount Vernon, the partially finished Washington Monument in DC, and the stables in Amherst.
Willa Noble is our eyes, ears, and narrator. She is a young woman hired as a maid at the Dickinson home where she has the luxury of her own room. After she was there a couple days, her brother Henry came to her window to visit. Willa was twelve and Henry only ten when their mother died, and Willa became their breadwinner. Henry has been involved in various schemes so he could get a real home for them. He began working at the town stables, and she would visit him on Sunday, her day off.
Sunday didn’t come for Henry, however. Michael, a police officer who was a friend to the siblings for several years, and a detective came to see Willa just days after Henry’s visit. Willa’s beloved brother and only family member was killed at the stables. They claimed it was an accident, his own fault, due to his lack of experience with horses. Willa knew better; Henry could handle any animal he was around. The detective planned to close the case.
Emily Dickinson overheard much of that conversation. She spoke with Willa and decided they had a mystery to solve, determined to help Willa. Emily learned more about her, including that she loved to do gardening, so she could help Emily.
The first time Emily and Willa went to the stable, they learned from Jeremiah, a young Black man who worked there, that Henry was killed by a horse named Terror. Jeremiah was a free man and had worked with Henry in the past. Henry was the best friend Jeremiah ever had. He told them what little he knew about his death. The horse had fresh burns on his flank, and Jeremiah believed someone burned the horse to cause it to strike Henry. Terror had adored Henry and was lying next to his body as if trying to protect him, even in death, and stopped eating after Henry died. Jeremiah gave Willa a small parcel that Henry asked to be given to her if anything happened to him.
It was his diary, alluding to things he might be involved with. That, coupled with information they began to learn from others, led them to believe that Henry was murdered either by his boss or by slave catchers. Runaway slaves had been routed to the stables. A few were released to go to Canada. Others were held for slave catchers to pick up.
This is not the Emily Dickinson that we are familiar with; there isn’t any evidence of her helping to solve any murders. The author depicts many of her characteristics, including the huge dog she owned, the poetry she wrote, and the sheltered life she led. I felt as if I knew Emily and Willa by the end of the novel. I also enjoyed meeting Michael, the police officer, Margaret, the primary maid, and Buford, Mr. Dickinson’s driver in DC during his stay as a congressman.
This gripping novel held my attention from the first page to the last. Plot twists eliminated several of my suspects. I could not imagine the two young women, one a congressman’s daughter and the other a house servant, working together to find who killed a well-liked, dirt poor, young man and discover who the slave catcher and other bad guys were. It was simply not done by women of their time or Miss Dickinson’s station in life. I appreciated the historical content and touches of authenticity and was very pleased with the ending. I highly recommend this outstanding first in a new series!
“He lived up to his name Noble as he died for a noble cause.”