Death Brings A Shadow by Rosemary Simpson brings to life the post-Civil War period of the Gilded Age. Along with a murder mystery Simpson explores the South during the Reconstruction era.
The story opens in 1889 when Prudence MacKenzie and Geoffrey Hunter are traveling from their residence of New York to Bradford Island, a sea island off the coast of Georgia. The setting provides a very creepy atmosphere, which fits into the plot line perfectly. It will remind readers of the line from the “Wizard of Oz,” only this time it is alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes-oh my.
Simpson noted, “I remember walking in Cumberland Island, off the Georgia coast. As I walked along the sand it was so beautiful with the ocean breeze. But as I continued walking away from the ocean across the sand dunes, all of a sudden, I was surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes and was looking down for snakes. People can get lost, dehydrated, bit by a snake, and can fall over a tree root. It is very dangerous; yet, it is also magical in an eerie sort of way. I think the setting is another character in the book because it is so dominant.”
It also delves into the culture and thought process of Southerners after the Civil War where bigotry still runs deep. This story has two families from different backgrounds that are merged by the soon-to-be wedding of Yankee Eleanor Dickson and Southerner Teddy Bennett. The Dickson’s are financially secure, while the Bennett’s are struggling to survive. Eleanor’s father bought the island as a summer retreat and has allowed Teddy’s family to keep their ancestral home that once was a thriving plantation. There are ex-slaves that become secondary characters in the story including Aunt Jessa, an elderly African woman who practices white voodoo and Queen Lula, a practitioner of black magic.
I lived in the South for more than thirty years. Sometimes I felt apart from the culture. The South back then, even nowadays, is very insular and defensive against people who do not share the common background. While there, I listened to people, and absorbed the attitudes, and the way they looked at things. Many Southerners still believe in the voodoo. There is juju and spells. Sometimes it worked because the person attributed something that happened to the spell. The doll and the bracelet are realistic as well as spells that could not be reversed. I took a lot of this information from first person accounts and stories.”
Unfortunately, the wedding turns into a funeral after Prudence’s best friend, Eleanor, is found dead in the swamp. The main characters, Prudence and Geoffrey, find that the body has numerous bruises and a dislocated shoulder indicating that someone held Eleanor underwater. Prudence, along with Geoffrey, run a private investigation firm, and are determined to get to the bottom of what really happened. To do this they must battle complications that arise from more murders taking place and the strain that Geoffrey’s Southern background has created.
“I wanted to write more about Geoffrey and his background. He left everything behind, but still carries his family with him. He is a conflicted character because he cannot be completely disloyal, but has moral qualms. This is why I put in this quote, ‘The hidden places of the private Geoffrey, where blood and family and conflicting loyalties warred for control of who and what he was.’ At some point, I will take him back to North Carolina to the plantation where his family still lives.”
As the story progresses so does the tension. With each truth, there are twists and turns that keep the readers guessing. The depiction of the South is very unsettling because of the moral injustices and hidden secrets.