This is part of my 9 books challenge.

Although the prologue is set in 1890, this is a modern day mystery. I might even call it a cozy mystery because there are no greasily bodies or blood spurting everywhere in the book.

This the first book in a series about art historian Sweeny St. George who specializes is gravestones and other funerary art. She’s a professor at the University of Boston.

Toby DiMarco, her best friend, gives her photos of a very unusual gravestone and Sweeny is instantly interested. The headstone is in Vermont where Toby is going to spend the Christmas with his aunt and uncle, and he invites Sweeny who is estranged from her own family and usually spends the holidays by herself. She agrees.

The gravestone is for Mary Denholm who died in 1890 at the age of 18 in the Byzantium Art Colony in Vermont. Before leaving, Sweeny phones to Ruth Kimball who’s the closest living relative of Mary. Ruth knows about Mary and says that she has always suspected that Mary was murdered. However, she doesn’t have the time to talk more then.

Sweeney calls Ruth again the next evening and to her shock Ruth’s daughter Sherry tells her that Ruth is dead.

She travels to the Colony in Vermont and meets Toby’s family and the local people there. Everyone is in shock about Ruth’s death which is suspected of being a suicide. However, Ruth had been thinking about selling her house to a developer who would like to build condos there. Everyone at the Colony seems to be firmly against building them; they would like to preserve the historical places. Also, there has been a series of burglaries in the Colony and the town near it, and everyone is on the edge.

It seems that more that one person could have killed Ruth but Sweeny has a strong suspicion that someone worried that Ruth, and Sweeny, are looking too much into the death of Mary Denholm.

This is a good mystery. It has lots of interesting and quirky character who aren’t what they appear to be at first. Although most of the characters weren’t very likable, that’s quite usual in mysteries. The setting in Vermont is also interesting and is almost a character itself.
Sweeney herself is quite likable. She’s passionate about her research of funerary items. She’s also an insomniac who tries to medicate herself with alcohol when all else has failed. Her fiancé was killed a year ago in a metro bombing, her father killed himself when she was young, and she’s almost convinced that anyone who gets involved with her is doomed.

She and Toby are old friends and it’s interesting to find out more about their lives and relationship as the story unfolds. They have a lot in common. Toby is interested in one of the women at the Colony and to her surprise Sweeny finds herself a bit jealous. Luckily, this doesn’t take over the book, though.

The plot’s a little on the slow side but this isn’t a thriller to begin with. Most of the book is written from Sweeney’s point-of-view but there are a few chapters from other people’s point-of-view.