Mining for Justice
Mining for Justice is the eighth book in Kathleen Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson mystery series set at a series of Wisconsin historical sites during the 1980s. This time, it’s Pendarvis, a site about the experiences of immigrant lead miners from Cornwall in the 1830s. These skilled miners helped settle the area, since they brought families. (Pendarvis only exists today due to the restoration and preservation efforts of a gay couple in the 1930s, but you won’t hear about that here, although their names are mentioned a couple of times in passing.)
I admit, my enjoyment in each installment of this series varies with the history site involved. I really liked the Laura Ingalls Wilder tour in Death on the Prairie, while the Civil War enactment of A Memory of Muskets was of less interest to me. So when I heard about this one, I thought “miners?” But it turned out to be fascinating, if a bit disturbing when you consider how life-threatening the activity was.
In each novel, Ernst weaves the current-day murder investigation together with flashbacks to the time of the location. In this case, it’s a family of two Cornish brothers and a sister who emigrate to Wisconsin. I thought her treatment of the historical elements in this installment was the best yet. She leaves certain elements unspoken, for the reader to put them together based on what they know of the modern-day artifacts that have survived.
In Mining for Justice, Chloe, curator at Old World Wisconsin, is visiting Pendarvis to help its curator with questions about artifact storage. She’s also interested in seeing an old stone cottage her friend is restoring in the area. Unfortunately, news has just broken that Pendarvis is at risk of being shut down, and a skeleton is found buried in the root cellar of the friend’s cottage. And then a pushy historian who disagrees with the site approach is murdered by being pushed down the stairs at one of the historical buildings.
Meanwhile, Chloe’s boyfriend, police officer Roelke, is trying to determine the best way to help his cousin Libby, who’s being stalked by her ex-husband. The series blends murder, personal relationship soap opera, and evocative descriptions of the historical sites as they were 30 years ago. Of course, there are the expected “our amateur detective is in danger!” scenes that I could do without, but that seems to be an expectation of the cozy mystery genre these days. Several of the plot points — child endangerment, busting drug dealers — are ramped up higher than they need to be to keep the excitement going and reader emotionally involved. It’s not a subtle read, but it’s an educational one in several ways.
This is far from the end of the series, since one key character takes an out-of-character action that will have later ramifications, and I’ll be back for more. And some day I’m finally going to make time to visit some of these sites! (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)