Kathleen Ernst is a Wisconsin author who may be best known for her American Girl books. She had written eight American girl mysteries featuring young heroines who are strong as well as smart. And in September American Girl will be launching its newest character, Caroline Abbot, created by none other than Kathleen Ernst.
However, several years ago Kathleen moved her mystery-writing skills to include adult novels. She drew not only on her abilities as a writer, but on her own experience as an interpreter and curator of the nation's largest outdoor historical museum, Old World Wisconsin.
The result of that experience is the character Chloe Ellefson, the fictional collections curator of Old World Wisconsin who finds dead bodies and solves their murders.
The Heirloom Murders is the second in the Chloe Ellefson series. The plot revolves around the missing Eagle diamond, a true-life gem unearthed in Wisconsin in 1876. That's my favorite part about reading a book like this one.
As I've said in other posts, I love books that teach me something new. The great thing about Kathleen's book is how she teaches about the workings of an outdoor historical museum without being obvious about it. Everything we learn about the gardens, how important heirloom seeds are (the fact that they exist at all!), and the various people who work on-site is woven naturally into the story.
The Heirloom Murders switches its point of view between the main character, Chloe, and the young small town police officer, Roelke McKenna, who desperately wants a relationship with her, but doesn't seem to quite know how to go about getting her to commit.
Both Chloe and McKenna have complex personal histories that get in the way of a relationship, but also equip them with the skills and character traits that make them good leads in the kinds of murder investigations endemic to the "cozy" mystery genre. The plot is wonderfully tangled and kept me guessing as to who had done what and how the "suspects" were connected.
The fact that I have visited Old World Wisconsin made the story more personal for me. But for those who haven't been there, Kathleen paints a picture of the site and the small towns nearby that puts the reader into the story.
The Heirloom Mystery is a wonderful read for both mystery and history fans.