Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Kathleen Kent's The Wolves of Andover offers a suspenseful vision of colonial Massachusetts

Given its subject, “The Wolves of Andover” is the evocatively perfect title for Kathleen Kent’s second novel, which serves as a prequel to her bestselling debut, The Heretic’s Daughter. It also stands well on its own. The book was released in paperback as The Traitor’s Wife, probably because the original seemed too obscure to non-New Englanders or insufficiently trendy, but I’m glad that my copy reflects the publisher’s initial choice. It was published in 2010, and I finally had the opportunity to dust it off and read it.

Martha Allen, a young woman in colonial Massachusetts in 1673, has a sharp tongue that discourages potential suitors. In the hopes of getting her married off, her father, a stingy old man from Andover, carts her over to Billerica to place her as a servant to her cousin Patience and her husband, Daniel Taylor, who will be adding a new child to their family soon. Strangely, Martha’s brusque outspokenness doesn’t seem to discourage the curious interest of their farm’s hired man, Thomas Carrier, a tall, taciturn Welshman.

The precariousness of life in Puritan New England is made very clear. Dangers creep in from many sides: the wolves that encroach on the Taylors’ farm at nighttime; the stern admonishments of a local clergyman, with his pronouncements about sin; and for women in particular, the knowledge that they risk their lives with each childbirth. Among the most menacing of threats are four Englishmen sailing from London to hunt down a rogue Puritan soldier who had a hand in executing the late Charles I during the English Civil War… a man rumored to be of great physical stature. The viewpoint shifts between Martha and these pursuers, each vile in his own way, with a few other perspectives emerging to round out the picture. A heads up to the squeamish that there are some violent scenes.

If you’ve read Robert Harris’s recent Act of Oblivion (I haven’t yet), you’ll be familiar with this little-known link between England and its American colonies: the transatlantic pursuit of the men responsible for Charles I’s death after his son gains the throne. Dark and haunting, The Wolves of Andover adds to the historical picture, showing not only the suspenseful chase but also how the so-called regicides remain concealed among their fellow Puritans. On top of that, the novel gives us a tender love story based in history (both Martha and Thomas once lived), and rooted in mutual respect and acceptance.

The Wolves of Andover was published by Reagan Arthur Books/Little Brown in 2010.

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