Katharine Beutner. Killingly. June 6, 2023. 360 pages. Soho Crime.
A haunting tale set in the rarefied world of Mount Holyoke college, the oldest of the Seven Sisters, and inspired by a true story. It’s 1897 and Bertha Mellish, a quiet and rather odd junior, has gone missing, last seen walking into the woods that surround the college. As days go by, her disappearance draws to campus her sister and father—an enfeebled minister from Killingly, Connecticut—the police, and a private investigator hired by the family. But the one person who likely knows what happened to Bertha is Agnes Sullivan, and she’s being incredibly circumspect. Agnes is poor and Irish, a promising scientist, and Bertha’s closest friend…or lover? At a time when women in an environment like Mount Holyoke could establish romantic relationships, and display affection, Agnes and Bertha were such a couple—in fact, they planned after graduation to live in a Boston Marriage, the name for two women who set up a household together. So why is Agnes so tight-lipped? Rape, incest, abortion, vivisection, and insanity swirl around the narrative, as does the imagining of the precarious lives of women, even when privileged. Beutner does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into this world then locking the door behind us, keeping us engaged until the very last page.—Brian Kenney