Book review: Local author's 'Rattlesnake Hill' goes 'deep, personal'

"Rattlesnake Hill: A Berkshire Hilltown Mystery," by New Marlborough author Leslie Wheeler, begins, as sometimes Berkshire stories will, when people come to visit, often with a particular project in mind. Very often it is research of some aspect of historical significance, and sometimes it is a personal quest.

The protagonist in this story, Kathryn Stinson, has come to the fictional Berkshire town of New Nottingham from Boston with a mission to resolve the mystery of a haunting photograph, a daguerreotype of a beautiful young woman that her Aunt Kit has held dear for decades. They had planned to make the trip together, but Aunt Kit died suddenly of a heart attack and willed the image to Kathryn, who must now pursue the mission of finding out who the woman in the daguerreotype was and uncover the murky past that may have surrounded her death, probably a murder.

The image had belonged to an ancestor of hers, Jared Cutter, when he mysteriously moved to California because something happened between him and this woman. Kathryn's plan to make local contacts and find out what she yearns to know has both an auspicious and often very bumpy start, but the rough spots only intrigue her more and she delves into the local lore with more determination. Her first order of business is to contact an elderly woman, Emily Goodale, who also has a keen interest in the image of the woman and probably knows her identity. But Emily had been expecting Aunt Kit and when she meets Kathryn, before she will reveal anything, she is coy and sends Kathryn on research that takes her into the woods, both figuratively and literally. The situations bring her in close contact with dangerous, and also intriguing, local personalities.

Most importantly, there are the infamous Barkers, a clan of roughnecks whose family history plays a large part in the mystery of the woman in the image. Kathryn's growing fondness for Earl Barker jeopardizes her relationship with her Boston lawyer beau, Alan Marquette. There is the despicable and wealthy owner of the house she has been renting, Gordon Farley, former husband of Diana Farley, who was killed nearby under suspicious circumstances as well, involving love and passion, much like the story of the mystery woman in the image, a hundred years before. There is also a powerful presence of the supernatural in this story involving sensed ghostly personages, but more profoundly, the legend of a white stag that will make its appearance when most needed to offer guidance and powerful medicine.

"Rattlesnake Hill" is a tale of town and country that goes deep and personal when a sophisticated woman of the city learns that love is not bound by manners and cultures, but is an affair of the heart that can be redeeming, but, in some instances, quite deadly.

Leslie Wheeler is an award-winning author of books about American history and biography. She has written three Miranda Lewis "living history" mysteries: "Murder at Plimoth Plantation," "Murder at Gettysburg" and "Murder at Spouters Point."

Wheeler notes in her acknowledgements that it was her ancestor, Obadiah Wheeler, who was the founder of New Marlborough, where she splits her time between the Berkshires and Cambridge.

Wheeler will appear at the Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar for a reading and book signing at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at

Read it ...

"Rattlesnake Hill: A Berkshire Hilltown Mystery"

By Leslie Wheeler

Publisher: Encircle Publications, LLC

305 Pages


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