I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died
An Emily Dickinson Mystery #2
By Amanda Flower
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
When a literary icon stays with the Dickinson family, Emily and her housemaid Willa find themselves embroiled in a shocking murder in this new mystery from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Amanda Flower.
August 1856. The Dickinson family is comfortably settled in their homestead on Main Street. Emily’s brother, Austin Dickinson, and his new wife are delighted when famous thinker and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson comes to Amherst to speak at a local literary society and decides he and his young secretary, Luther Howard, will stay with the newlyweds. Emily has been a longtime admirer of Emerson’s writing and is thrilled at the chance to meet her idol. She is determined to impress him with her quick wit, and if she can gather the courage, a poem. Willa Noble, the second maid in the Dickinson home and Emily’s friend, encourages her to speak to the famous but stern man. But his secretary, Luther, intrigues Willa more because of his clear fondness for the Dickinson sisters.
Willa does not know if Luther truly cares for one of the Dickinson girls or if he just sees marrying one of them as a way to raise himself up in society. After a few days in his company, Willa starts to believe it’s the latter. Miss Lavinia, Emily’s sister, appears to be enchanted by Luther; a fact that bothers Emily greatly. However, Emily’s fears are squashed when Luther turns up dead in the Dickinsons’ garden. It seems that he was poisoned. Emerson, aghast at the death of his secretary, demands answers. Emily and Willa set out to find them in order to save the Dickinson family reputation and stop a cold-blooded fiend from killing again. (From Goodreads)
This historical cozy mystery is even better than the first in its series! One does not need to be a scholar of 19th century poetry or fictional writings to appreciate characters, as it has been several decades since I read anything by Emily Dickinson or their special guest, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I appreciate that the author includes a section that indicates which characters were real which scenes were drawn from true events. While Emily Dickinson was not a sleuth, there are other things about her that are accurate.
When newlyweds Austin, Emily’s brother, and Susan, her sister-in-law and best friend, returned from their honeymoon, their first guest, Ralph Waldo Emerson, would arrive within a week. He would speak at a week-long symposium at the nearby college and the local literary society. Austin and Susan’s home, Evergreens, was next door to “the homestead”, where Austin’s parents and sisters lived.
The servants from the homestead helped make final preparations at Austin’s. Willa, a housemaid and Emily’s maid, was sent to assist at Emily’s insistence. The two were friends since Willa’s first few days of working for the Dickinson’s, but nobody could know because people of Dickinson’s class didn’t pal around with their servants. The two had bonded when they sought the killer of Willa’s brother. The point of view we read is Willa’s.
Emily is different from most young ladies, from being a near recluse, to her manner of dress and thoughts on marriage. Those who suspect their friendship don’t like it, especially when Emily insists Willa accompany her to help her where her enormous, gentle bear of a dog, Carlo, is not allowed. Emily often requests Willa to go with her, especially if they are investigating.
A special dinner was planned for the second day of Mr. Emerson’s visit. Shortly before that dinner, Willa overheard him fire his secretary, Luther, for stealing his writings and trying to sell them as his own. He could finish the week, then be gone. When all were seated, Luther suddenly looked ill and left the table. Emily sent Willa to find him. He was not in his room, which someone had searched and scattered his belongings. From the window, Willa saw him staggering outdoors and ran to help him. Once outside, the yardmen saw Willa and called for help, as Luther just died in the flower garden.
Upper class Victorian people were very concerned with how they were perceived by others. Luther’s death, determined to be murder, might cause others to look down on the Dickinson family. The somewhat corrupt police department would quickly solve cases involving prominent people, even when it meant charging innocent, lower class people.
Emily was curious, and wanted to find who killed their guest. She frequently pulled Willa from house duties to help question others about who killed Luther. He was disliked by many, allowing for several possible suspects. They were shocked at the poor character of Emerson’s secretary.
I was impressed with the descriptions of the Dickinson family and appreciated learning about them. I liked Emily, Louisa Alcott, and Willa the best. Each was intelligent and strong in their own way. Emily and Louisa spoke their minds about life as they saw it, but Willa lived circumspectly. It would have been hard to be a servant in any era, in part due to the lack of close friends among those one spent their lives with. Other than Emily, Willa had one friend on the property, Jeremiah, who had been her brother’s best friend.
It was quite a challenge to select the bad guy from the array of people who Luther offended – or worse. Plot twists were used well, and there were a couple red herrings that seemed good suspects that didn’t feel quite right. I was very pleased with the outcome, yet sad with who the killer really was. I highly recommend this novel and series!