This absorbing historical novel is less a mystery than a meditation on love between outcasts. In this instance the chief outcasts are John Frayne, recently returned from explorations in the western territories to reclaim the property in upstate New York stolen when his father was hanged as a Tory sympathizer, and Jennet, a young hearing-impaired wild woman offered for sale as an indentured servant after being captured while burying her mother (Hannah Trevor, familiar to readers of Margaret Lawrence's skillful post-Revolutionary War mystery series) in the frozen lake near the Frayne homestead in 1809. A crippled furniture maker who deserted the Napoleonic army at Austerlitz and an old master craftsman complete the roster of the exiled and damaged. Along with Jennet, they help Frayne rebuild his father's estate, which is strategically situated at the head of the bay near the Canadian border, from which all trade has been embargoed by President Thomas Jefferson. "An army is massing at the Canadian border, and apprentices are eager to volunteer, to march off and attack the British at the head of the lake. Teach the Redcoats a lesson, that is the cry now. Bonaparte is riding roughshod over Europe and Nelson's navy is bleeding; he stops neutral ships to kidnap Yankee seamen and press them into the service of England. The myth of American independence is one King George can no longer afford to indulge."
While the novel begins slowly with Frayne's return 10 years after abandoning his unfaithful wife and 2-year-old son, its power builds as the multiple dimensions of the main characters are explicated. Frayne's wife Hester has paid dearly for her infidelity, blackmailed into marriage to an ally of the scheming shopkeeper who holds the corrupt title to Frayne's land. And Tim, John's young son, is torn between his loyalty to his stepfather and his memories of the man who left so long ago. Uncertain how to approach his wife and son, Frayne attempts to build a new life with Jennet and in the process recapture Tim's affection. The harsh landscape is lovingly evoked, and although the climax smacks of the melodramatic, the sweep of history drives this artfully written book to a somewhat predestined conclusion. --Jane Adams [via]