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Their Winter Burn: A Historical Mystery of Boston 1805

by Mary Ann Trail

Rating: *****

Jeffrey and Georgina Chadwick finally reach a bitterly cold, snowy Boston in January 1805 with their fellow travelers, Eliza, Lauchlin, and Granny Cameron, Paddy Cavanaugh, and two orphaned girls, Margaret and Mairi, all ready to settle down and begin new lives.

But, when a dead body is found in the cellar of their rental house and the victim’s father requests Jeffrey’s help, the eight are forced to place their plans on hold to help find the murderer. A hunt that proves difficult when the town is far from welcoming…

Their Winter Burn is the first book from Mary Ann Trail that I have read but the novel is part of a series. However, it certainly stands alone. Trail does an excellently subtle yet efficient job of bringing a nascent reader fully up to speed with the Chadwick household by the end of the first chapter.

And, what a household it is. There are just enough characters for difference and interest yet not too many that a reader is constantly referring back to recall who’s who. They are an immensely engaging and likable tribe all of whom have their parts to play in both the domestic setting and the hunt for the murderer.

Although the group has been through traumatic events and has their vulnerabilities, especially the two girls, Trail, while not avoiding difficult issues, brings the main characters to life with a warmth and charm that is captivating and extremely readable.

Nonetheless, when the group begins to explore their new home, there is a sense of apprehension and unease which is only heightened by the discovery of a dead man, Peter Cushing, at the bottom of the basement stairs.

Trail has developed a strong, simple, and gripping narrative with this murder mystery; it twists, turns, and gives little away until bit by bit the pieces slot together.

It would be an addictive read in any surround but the early 19th-century setting is wonderfully realized and complementary to the whodunnit. Throughout, Their Winter Burn is drizzled with meticulous period detail without it becoming didactic or dense. For historical fiction buffs, of which I count myself one, it ticks the boxes.

Aside from those in the household, Trail has created a nicely involving and authentic cast in and around Boston. Jeffrey’s uncle, Aaron, especially, is richly brought to life and Chen was marvelously depicted and free from stereotype.

Indeed, the addition of Chen and his men was an astute one providing extra layers of intrigue and interest, not only in respect of the murder victim, and the motive for his slaying, but also themselves.

As the title would suggest, it’s very cold in Boston. Trail conjures the relentless bone-chilling weather with icy realism and uses it effectively to drive parts of the plot forward.

Notwithstanding the freezing temperature and brutal murder, Their Winter Burn occasionally feels a touch syrupy, and Georgina especially, possibly always a bit too cheerful, but maybe that suggests more about my temperament than hers.

Their Winter Burn is a comprehensively crafted, well-written, and thoroughly entertaining slice of cozy escapism. Highly recommended.

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