Because I Could Not Stop for Death
reviewed by Pam Guynn
Amanda Flower brings great characterization and world-building to Because I Could Not Stop for Death, the first book in the Emily Dickinson historical mystery series. The novel begins in January 1855 with Willa Noble applying for a job at the Dickinson home in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Despite being late, drenched, and covered in mud, Willa gets the job as a housemaid with Emily’s help. Tragedy strikes when Willa’s brother Henry is killed in an accident at the town’s stables. Willa tells Emily about it as well as her belief that it wasn’t an accident, but murder. Emily offers to help her investigate.
Mixing real-life individuals like the Dickinson family with fictional characters such as Willa and Henry made this an engaging historical fiction story. Both Willa and Emily are well-developed characters. Willa has a tendency to sacrifice herself for family and duty and is compassionate, hard working, and loyal, but lacks self-confidence. Emily is curious, aloof, writes furiously, and is willing to use her family’s wealth and prestige to get what she wants. While Emily didn’t change much during the course of the novel, Willa was more dynamic and grew more confident as the story unfolded.
This historical mystery brings to life the conflicting sentiments that existed in America at the time. This included how people in different social classes were treated and viewed, the attitudes toward and expectations of women, and the need for some to carry papers everywhere they went to prove they were free. The novel seems to be well-researched including the travel to and experiences in Washington D.C. that felt right for the times.
There are a few plot twists, but I was able to discern the antagonist relatively early with the clues provided. Despite this, I enjoyed the story and felt transported to the mid 1800’s. Based on my limited knowledge of the poet Emily Dickinson, she seemed to be well portrayed in this fictional portrayal of an early period in her life. The story is moving and suspenseful at times, but the pace felt somewhat slow. Additional themes woven into the story include grief, protecting others, bullying, politics, greed, and family relationships.
Overall, this story is engaging, well-written, and well-researched. This book is somewhat darker than most of the cozy mysteries I have read by this author. Those that enjoy historical mysteries, amateur sleuths, or are interested in Emily Dickinson will likely enjoy this novel. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
Berkley Publishing Group and Amanda Flower provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for September 20, 2022.