A Mystery of Identity

The Burying Ground: A Thaddeus Lewis Mystery, by Janet Kellough, (Dundurn), 304 pages, release date 4 August, 2015

Janet Kellough’s The Burying Ground is an interesting read, not just for the mystery at its center, but also for the historical questions it raises. The setting of this mystery is the Strangers’ Burying Ground in Toronto. Graves are being dug up, but the bodies are left behind, so this can’t be the work of “resurrection men.” The promotional copy focuses on this mystery and the two men who join to try to solve it—the Rev. Thaddeus Lewis and his former student, Morgan Spicer, who is now the caretaker for this cemetery of the poor, the unknown, and the criminal.

I enjoyed this mystery, but for me the character at the heart of the book was Luke Lewis, Thaddeus’ son, who has just completed medical school and entered into a partnership with an aging village doctor. Luke is a gay man with one long-term relationship behind him (his partner died of tuberculosis), who is doing his best both to hide and to ignore this part of his identity. Not surprisingly, among Luke’s concerns is the way his father might respond to Luke’s orientation.

Although The Burying Ground is set in 1851, I’m using modern terminology here—gay, partner—because I don’t know what the terminology of the time was. There was the pejorative term, Molly, which appears in the book, but beyond that, who knows? This brings us to the heart of the issue that captured me: what does it mean to identify as a particular sort of person, if there isn’t even a word to name such people? Would the responses of those who uncover Luke’s secret be typical for his time? Or do they represent Kellough’s more modern sensibilities? These are fascinating questions that the character Luke brings to life for readers.

Read The Burying Ground for its mystery, but also use it a prompting to think about identity and history.

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