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Fiction Historical

Wishful Seeing

A Thaddeus Lewis Mystery

by (author) Janet Kellough

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2016
Historical, Police Procedural, Historical
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jul 2016
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2016
    List Price

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2017 Arthur Ellis Award, Best Novel — Shortlisted
Saddlebag preacher Thaddeus Lewis uncovers murder and conspiracy in Northumberland County.

A body is discovered on an isolated island in Rice Lake. Saddlebag preacher Thaddeus Lewis is sent on a desperate hunt for the truth when a woman for whom he feels a guilty attraction stands accused of the murder. Meanwhile, railway mania grips the county: everyone expects to get rich off the Cobourg–Peterborough rail line — some at the expense of others.
Aided by his fifteen-year-old granddaughter and a charming but inexperienced lawyer, Thaddeus defends the woman while privately questioning his motives for doing so. With little hard evidence to go on, the courtroom battle to prove the woman’s innocence seems doomed — until a startling discovery gives the case a fighting chance. But the trio’s digging uncovers a conspiracy that could threaten the future of the entire district. With the fortunes of the county, and his own future, on the line, Thaddeus struggles against shady characters and his own conscience to solve the crime.

About the author

Janet Kellough is a professional storyteller who has written and appeared in numerous stage productions featuring a fusion of spoken word and music. Her five books in the Thaddeus Lewis series are On the Head of a Pin, Sowing Poison, 47 Sorrows, The Burying Ground, and Wishful Seeing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Janet Kellough's profile page


  • Short-listed, Arthur Ellis Award, Best Novel

Excerpt: Wishful Seeing: A Thaddeus Lewis Mystery (by (author) Janet Kellough)


Committal Proceedings, Cobourg Courthouse, September 21, 1853

Thaddeus Lewis was not in the least surprised that the courtroom was packed with spectators. The newspapers had been full of lurid details about the Paul Sherman murder, and the fact that the accused was a woman made the case even more sensational. As he elbowed his way to the front of the room, he couldn't help but overhear snatches of speculation and opinion. The circumstances surrounding the arrest of Ellen Howell had been thrashed over many times in the days leading up to the committal, but everyone seemed to expect that the prosecution would today present further evidence that was not yet common knowledge.
In Thaddeus's opinion, most of the people he pushed out of the way were gawkers and idlers,,there out of nothing more than curiosity.They would repeat the details of the proceedings later in the streets and taverns. Others would crowd around to hear news of the latest developments. Some of them would even pay for drinks in exchange for eyewitness accounts.
Thaddeus managed to find a seat in the second row of benches on the right hand side near the prisoner's box. Mrs. Howell had asked him to attend, "So I know for certain there's a friendly face in the crowd,"she'd said; but his presence would be no comfort if she couldn't see him. A beefy man and an elderly woman with a cane had glared as he shoved past them and slid into a vacant seat. Under any other circumstances, Thaddeus would stand back and let the woman take the space. Today, he would firmly claim possession of a few inches of bench.
The hubbub in the room grew louder as the prisoner was led in from a door at the side of the courtroom. She walked with her head down, looking neither left nor right, but just as she reached the box she stumbled slightly and reached out to steady herself, grabbing the rail in front of her. At that moment she happened to glance up. Thaddeus caught her eye and nodded. She smiled slightly.
The crowd quieted and everyone rose as the three grim-faced Justices of the Peace entered and took their places at the front of the room. Thaddeus rose only far enough to show the requisite respect. He wasn't taking a chance on losing his seat. When they had all settled themselves again, the clerk read out the charges, alleging that "Mrs. Ellen Howell did feloniously, willfully, and with malice aforethought, on the night of September fourteenth, in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-three, in the Township of Hamilton, kill and murder Mr. Paul Sherman."
Mrs. Howell's head sunk lower as the accusation was read, and the audience in the courtroom was strangely silent as the gravity of the charge struck home. Newspaper reporters scribbled furiously, recording every detail so they could later describe it all for their readers.
One by one the prosecution witnesses were called and swore to tell the truth. The first to testify was the coroner, who had determined that the death was suspect and called together a jury who agreed. He described the scene when he arrived on Spook Island, and read the autopsy report stating that Paul Sherman had died from a gunshot wound to the chest.
The prosecutor thanked the coroner and then walked the other witnesses through their testimonies.
Donald Dafoe, the man who found the body, repeated his account that he had been fishing, and had put ashore on Spook Island to cook a pickerel, whereupon he discovered the dead man.
Two people testified that they had seen Ellen Howell on the shore with her husband earlier on the day in question. Two more swore that they had later seen her walking along the road from Sully in the direction of the Howell farm, although "she was ahead of us," one said, "and turned up the lane before we reached her." Both claimed she was wearing a blue dress. And one witness testified that Ellen Howell had previously attended a Methodist meeting wearing that same blue dress. He said he remembered it because his wife had remarked on it and had been badgering him for one just like it ever since.
The crowd became restless as the testimony proceeded. This was all old news. These details had been discussed and debated long since. They were hungry for something new to talk about.
The next witness was a man from Close Point who had rented his skiff to "an Englishman." He was a newcomer to the area, and did not know the man's name.
"And was this man alone?" the prosecutor asked.
"No," the witness replied. "There was a woman with him. A woman in a blue dress. She stood a little way away, so I didn't see her face."
"Nevertheless," the prosecutor continued, "can you say with any certainty that this same woman is in the courtroom today?"
"No, I can't be certain at all. She was about the same height and build as the woman in the prisoner's box, but she wore her bonnet low and I wasn't close enough to see her clearly."
Thaddeus thought the lack of positive identification was a point in Mrs. Howell's favour, but then he realized that all the testimony did was confirm that both the Howells were present when the skiff was hired.
It was Chief Constable Spencer who finally gave the spectators what they had come for. "I personally interviewed a number of the witnesses called today," he reported, "and there was ample evidence to warrant a visit to the Howell farm, just south of Sully. My intention was to interview both Mr. and Mrs. Howell."
"And what did they have to say for themselves, Mr. Spencer?"
"Mr. Howell said nothing. He was not present, being away, according to his wife, on business. Mrs. Howell claimed not to know Paul Sherman, and denied ever having set foot on Spook Island. We commenced a search of the premises and discovered a blue dress soaking in a washtub in the summer kitchen."
The prosecutor was on sure ground now. "And did this dress match the description of the blue dress as reported by the witnesses you interviewed?"
"It did. And on further examination, it was evident that its laundering had not been sufficient to remove a large stain on the skirt."
"And in your opinion, what was the cause of the stain?"
Thaddeus felt, rather than heard, the crowd's sudden intake of breath.
"It looked to me for all the world like blood."
A gasp, and then an eruption of comment from the crowd, as though this was proof of guilt indeed. The bailiff called for order and gradually the chatter died away.
The prosecutor thanked the witnesses, signalling that the presentation of evidence was at an end.
One of the justices turned to Mrs. Howell, asking if she cared to cross-examine any the witnesses. She didn't look up, only declined with a quick shake of her head.
The deliberation took little time. The clamour of the crowd was deafening when one of the justices announced that evidence in the case was sufficient to proceed.
Ellen Howell would be tried for murder.
Thaddeus remained in his seat, deep in thought, while the courtroom emptied. He would have to find some way to help her.

Editorial Reviews

Great evocation of the era, excellent historical research and Thaddeus and Martha are two to watch.

Globe and Mail

A strong, page-turning partnership between history and mystery … Wishful Seeing is storytelling set apart from the usual mystery.

Don Graves

The stories themselves would be entirely at home in contemporary-set mystery novels, which makes the series perfect for readers of historical mysteries and for those who are simply looking for a good yarn, regardless of when it’s set.


Kellough smartly brings all her trails of intrigue and misunderstanding to a fine finish, so that an effort that on its face has the hallmarks of the worthy but tedious winds up being suspenseful, complex, satisfying — and entertainingly instructive, as well.

London Free Press

So this is your beach read. Take it to the shore, to the mountains, to the river, or even your own backyard, but don’t cheat yourself by passing it by.

Seattle Book Mama

An appealing look at life in mid-1800s Canada, full of historical detail, engaging characters, and a murder investigation that takes many surprising twists and turns before it can be solved.


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