In 1846, Concord, Massachusetts is a surprisingly intellectually active town, being the home of writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as the family of writer Henry Thoreau. Thoreau himself lives a short way from town in a cabin he’s built on Walden Pond, but his strong opinions about everything are well known in the village. Most of the villagers are average working folks of all kinds, and they get their news from the small local paper, The Concord Freeman run by Rufus Puckle, published twice a week. The main news reporter, and the narrator of this story, is his nephew Oliver Puckle, who is still a teenager but already knows everyone in town because of his job, from the strange madwoman Hetta who lives in the woods to his friend and fellow teenager Louisa May Alcott and many more. When Oliver’s uncle leaves him in charge of the newspaper while he visits Boston and New York for supplies, Oliver feels he is quite capable of handling the job. The female stranger that appears in the newspaper office one morning with a want ad to place surprises him. Her name is Margaret Roberts, and Oliver finds himself struck by her beauty and charm. She has arrived alone from Boston, reason unknown, and desires to place an ad in the paper advertising for any sort of work. Oliver is happy to comply, and gives her advice on finding a place to stay. He suggests the Thoreau home, which takes boarders. Henry Thoreau, meanwhile, has been placed in the town jail because he has refused to pay his taxes on matters of principle, and Oliver hastens there to get his side of the story.
Later, Oliver asks at the Thoreau home about Miss Roberts and finds she never appeared there. He searches for her around town, and no one has seen the young woman. Oliver fears some tragedy has befallen her, but can’t convince the town Sheriff to act, though he does tell local hunters to look for the girl when they go out hunting. Late that night the town bell rings repeatedly, a sign of trouble and alarm. When Oliver turns out to hear the news, it’s of a murdered woman found by hunters. He fears the worst, and is determined to find out what happened. Surprisingly, Henry Thoreau, though in jail all night, turns out to have the best ideas about that.
This is a great read by an author with a long and interesting career in many arenas, including comics. I’ve reviewed two more favorite books by him already, “Sinbad and Me,” and “The Blue Man.” This book, published posthumously, is a worthy addition, and recommended.