Book Review: Dead of Autumn by Sherry Knowlton

This book follows Alexa, a lawyer who moved from New York City back to her roots in Pennsylvania, where she lives in her family’s cabin in the woods. Aside from being a lawyer, she volunteers at a women’s clinic that has been the target of increasing heat and violence because one of the services it provides is abortions.

In the midst of it all, Alexa finds a dead body in the woods while walking her dog (a gentle giant!). The seemingly random event seems not to be so random after all, and Alexa spends the rest of the novel dealing with the repercussions of it while trying to help solve the murder.

I especially enjoyed the author’s description of setting. I felt like I was actually there in the woods, and I longed for it to be autumn (and me to have a free moment to go for a hike with Alexa, who seems like she would be a really good tour guide). I enjoyed experiencing the location in the woods that holds a church, once the site of part of the Underground Railroad. Yes, during these moments I felt like I was experiencing, rather than reading about, the setting. And frankly, it made me nostalgic!

I also enjoyed the relationships Alexa has with her brother, coworkers, fellow clinic workers, and the men in her life. And as a dog lover, I could see how Alexa’s dog could be such a comfort during such times. Several interchapters follow a group of young siblings from the 1930s who were murdered by their father because of hardships from the Great Depression. This legend is told by Alexa and shown through these interchapters, and the legend is tied in to the story (as the girls are buried near Alexa’s cabin). The only thing I craved a little more of was Alexa’s life as a lawyer. Since I know little about the day-to-day life of lawyers, I would have liked just a bit more of a glimpse into that aspect of her life.

But don’t get me wrong—there is plenty about Alexa’s life to keep a reader engaged. In fact, I read the entire book in three sittings—the final sitting encompassed literally the last half of the book. The tension in the plot built until the end. And even though a bit of romance was involved, it never really detracted from the plot or got cheesy (though it does raise the age range of readers of the book). When I found out that Knowlton was writing a sequel to this story, I knew I’d be adding it to my “to be read” list.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves mysteries or rural Pennsylvania. Alexa does have a pro-choice stance, and there is a group of gun-crazy religious wackos in the book as well as a few sex scenes (not super explicit, though), so sensitive readers beware.

I worked with the author, Sherry Knowlton, while I was teaching a class through Pennwriters, a Pennsylvania-based writers’ group. I had read just a few chapters of this book that she had been working on during the class. When I heard that the novel she had been working on for my class, Dead of Autumn, found a publisher, I had to read it! Though probably not necessary, I did want to include this disclaimer. However, I only post books on this blog that I have enjoyed (if I don’t enjoy a book, I generally don’t post about it!), so the opinion expressed in the above review is honest and is my own.

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