By Katharine Beutner
A Haunting Mystery Based on a Real-Life Disappearance
Bertha Mellish is a quiet and reserved student at Mount Holyoke College. She disappeared from her room in Porter Hall in 1897. Bertha’s best friend, Agnes Sullivan, is worried, and her much older sister Florence, a school teacher back home in Killingly, Connecticut, is devastated. The nearby pond is dredged to no avail, and the family doctor, who is overly fond of Bertha, hires a private detective who continues the search.
Before her disappearance, Bertha had been quietly seeing a young French man, Joseph Poitier, a millworker back in Killingly. Poitier is nowhere to be found. Was he responsible for Bertha’s disappearance, or were they together? Did she love him? A series of minor thefts have been occurring in Porter Hall just before Bertha’s disappearance, and some Porter Hall girls think Bertha may have been responsible. Did Bertha need money? Agnes, studying to be a surgeon, seems to know more than she is saying about Bertha’s disappearance.
Killingly is a haunting mystery based on the unsolved real-life disappearance of a Mount Holyoke student in 1897. The story is seemingly dark, chilling, and atmospheric. The writing skillfully transports us back to a women’s college campus ahead of its time.
Both Agnes and Florence’s characters carry the story. They were stoic and determined for their own reasons. Bertha’s father, a reverend, and the family doctor were creepy, overbearing, and unlikable. While the story was intriguing, the character development could have been better.
Author Katherine Beutner is a feminist author, essayist, and academic who has written one other novel, Alcestis, which was awarded the Edmund White Award for debut fiction in 2011.
I both listened to and read the book. While I enjoyed listening to the story, the narrator’s voice did not seem well-suited for the characters.
Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher Soho Crime/Recorded Books
Published June 6, 2023
Narrated Rachel Botchan