The Kept by James Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Quieter than your usual mystery, yet still fairly blood-soaked, The Kept was a rather unusual read for me. Set in the late 1800s we have train travel but little other technology, but at first, before I realized the timeframe, I thought it might have been set in Amish country. The winter cold adds to the bleak atmosphere and the sense of impending... something. Not quite doom, but something.
Elspeth is a midwife who spends months away from her family, who live on a remote farm in what I think is upstate New York. She's a sinner in some unnamed way, expecting some sort of punishment for these unspecified crimes. However she does not expect to return home to a family brutally murdered - nor does she expect to be shot. Luckily(?) the shooter is her 12-year-old son Caleb, who then tends to her in addition to preparing a funeral pyre for his siblings that gets out of hand, thus burning down the family home; he struggles to move himself and Elspeth to the barn where slowly they both heal enough to go after the men who murdered everyone.
Caleb never seems to wonder about why the men came, while Elspeth seems to assume that it's retribution for whatever it is she did earlier. They end up in a town, apparently Caleb's birthplace, and settle in to find the killers... you'll have to read to learn What Happens Next.
As I said, there's a lot of blood (not all of it murder-related) and a lot of atmosphere. Family is central to the book, including the questions of what family is and what it means. With just a few pacing tweaks this could have been a five star; as is, it's a solid 4.5.