Graven Images: A Singular Village Mystery

Eleanor Sullivan
Yesteryear Press (2013)
ISBN 9781939288110
Reviewed by Daryn Watson for Reader Views (8/13)

“Graven Images” by Eleanor Sullivan is the follow-up to her novel “Cover Her Body.” As the author explains, the story takes place in the Separatist’s village settlement of Zoar, Ohio during the late 1820s. The Separatists fled from Germany to avoid religious prosecution.

They develop a strict, hard-working community, led by Joseph Bimeler, where self-glorification, pre-marital sex and lying are forbidden. An artist named Sebastian poses a threat to some of these traditions by painting female members of Zoar, an act that would bring great shame to families caught with portraits. 

Adelaide, an apprenticing midwife and healer, and her husband, Benjamin, discover a portrait of Adelaide’s younger sister, Nellie. Sebastian’s portrait of Nellie, if discovered by others, could bring great shame to the family due to the extreme violation of the Separatist’s rules.

Another adversary in the novel is Gerda, the matron of the community in charge of disciplining the young girls within the settlement. Gerda’s abrasive personality and extreme physical and emotional punishment on the children are far too much for Adelaide and Benjamin to handle. However, little can be done because Joseph supports Gerda’s role within the community.

Sebastian is found dead by hanging in the livery stables. Egan, a traveling tinker with three children, is suspected of murdering Sebastian as well as robbing hotel guests of their jewelry. Egan and his family are brought back to the village where he will be turned over to the American authorities for trial and likely death. Adelaide is one of the very few whom suspect Egan is innocent and she vows to find the real killer.  

Adelaide is a fiery and strong-willed woman who must learn to keep her temper under wraps as she slyly and defiantly searches for the real killer. Her persistence almost brings shame to her family as she tries to convince Joseph to spare Egan from his impending trial and death.                                                   

Eleanor Sullivan does a great job with her descriptions of the surroundings and the situations for this time period. I felt I was able to envision the village and community people as she describes them. Having not read the prequel (“Cover Her Body”), I felt it a little bit challenging to follow the references between the first and current novel.

The author also includes a map of Zoar, Ohio near the front of the book which helped to picture the layout of the topography.

Eleanor Sullivan brings the reader into the book wondering how Adelaide will solve the mystery of who the true killer is. Not only due to the lack of modern day forensic technology but also due to the fact that most townspeople, including the leader, Joseph, want her to stop meddling and mind her own business. This fuels her frustration and determination even more.

“Graven Images” by Eleanor Sullivan is very well written murder mystery. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a great time period mystery.

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