The citizens of Concord, Massachusetts, never tire of their heritage. For decades, the intellectuals of this little hamlet have continued endless debates about Concord’s favorite sons: Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and their contemporaries. Concord’s latter-day transcendental scholars are a strange bunch, but none is more peculiar than Homer Kelly, an expert on Emerson and on homicide. An old-fashioned murder is about to put both skills to the test.
Poet Kitty Clark has waited her entire life to see a total eclipse of the sun. News of an impending eclipse thrills her until she learns it will be visible only from Nantucket, where her ex-lover Joe Green recently moved with his new wife. Unable to resist the astronomical lure, she flies from Boston and makes her way to an isolated lighthouse, hoping to avoid Joe. The eclipse itself is overwhelming. When the sun returns a few minutes later, Kitty is standing over the bloodied body of Mrs. Joe Green, claiming "the moon did it."
"Academics, Astronomy, and Moby Dick"
It all started when Georgie, hardly more than a wisp of thistledown, discovered she could jump down twelve steps in two big graceful bounds. Next, to her great delight, she learned that jumping from the porch and floating as high as the rooftop was possible too. So when the mysterious Canada goose appeared at her window one night it seemed only natural to climb onto his back and go off with him to learn how to really fly. But no one wants Georgie flying.
There are frogs in the pond at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. And someone has moved paintings while no one was looking. At most museums these pranks would be an annoyance, but at the Gardner - whose founder stipulated that the museum be disbanded if the original collection is ever disturbed - they could spell disaster. The Gardner’s board hires Harvard professor and former police lieutenant Homer Kelly to investigate the mischief. Hardly an art lover, Kelly has trouble taking the threat seriously at first. But when a museum patron is found dead after catching the prankster in the act, Homer springs into action.
Although she spent her life withdrawn from the people of Amherst, Massachusetts, every man, woman, and English professor in this small university town claims ownership of poet Emily Dickinson. They give tours in her house, lay flowers on her grave, and now, as the hundredth anniversary of her death approaches, they organize festivals in her name. Dickinson scholar Owen Kraznik has just been railroaded into organizing the event when Amherst starts to burn.
An infant crawls in the dark, up the cold stone steps of Boston’s Church of the Commonwealth. It is a miracle that Alan Starr notices the child, so focused is he on the church’s new organ, whose pipes he is about to hear for the first time. He takes the baby in his arms and goes inside to inspect the magnificent new instrument, designed to the specifications of the church’s master organist, mentor to Alan and to Rosalind, the baby’s mother. When Alan takes the child to his neighboring home, he finds blood on the floor and no trace of Rosalind.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, is home to Homer and Mary Kelly, Harvard University, the Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Leonard Sheldrake. Leonard, Homer's friend, often compares the many-faceted Cambridge to a favorite engraving - filled with strange power and wonder - by the 20th-century Dutch artist Maurits Escher. So he is thrilled when Cambridge hosts an Escher exhibit. There, Leonard is smitten by a mysterious woman in a green coat named Frieda who is equally enthralled by the artist's brilliance.
While visiting Monticello for the bicentennial celebration of Thomas Jefferson's presidency, Homer Kelly is disturbed to discover our third president in trouble with historians over the issues of slavery and Sally Hemings. Meanwhile, Thomas Dean, a mysterious trespasser, is disturbing the work of Homer's former student, Fern Fisher, who is struggling to restore Jefferson's reputation. On top of everything else, a serial killer who preys on young women is on the loose.
Life has not always been fair to Annie Swann. A bad marriage sullied her youth, but since her divorce she has made enough money illustrating children’s books to add a wing to her house. The new addition’s focal point will be a 35-foot blank wall, where Annie plans an elaborate mural of the fairy tale characters who pay her bills. But as she paints, mysterious markings appear on the mural: first splotches, then a woman’s face, ringed with blonde hair and covered in blood. It seems to point to the disappearance of Pearl Small, a Harvard student who took classes from Annie’s aunt Mary.
William Dubchick is too keen a student of the writings of Charles Darwin to not see that the world of biology has evolved past him. Decades ago, he was the foremost mind in Oxford University’s department of natural sciences, but as the field’s focus narrowed to the microscopic level he became nothing more than a gray-haired, cantankerous relic. He has a small fiefdom, manned by Helen Farfrae, a committed disciple who, Dubchick is annoyed to learn, someone is trying to kill.
Each year, the beautiful Sarah Bailey marks the winter solstice by organizing a pageant of drama and song for the citizens of Harvard University. Last year, the star of the show was Henry Shady, an Appalachian folk singer whose homespun charm won the eye of every young woman in Cambridge. On the eve of this year’s Revels, the singer is struck down in the street by an SUV driven by Sarah’s husband. The police dismiss it as a freak accident, but Mary Kelly, who witnessed the singer’s death, is not so sure.
John Hand visits the Heron house looking for a summer job. What he finds is a family in mourning. A few minutes after he is hired by Mrs. Heron and her daughter, Virginia, a neighbor, Buddy, finds Mr. Heron lying dead in the orchard, choked to death by asthma and bee stings. As Buddy comforts the grieving family, John feels out of place. But as he begins to suspect that Buddy knows more about Mr. Heron’s death than he’s letting on, he goes to the only person who can help: his uncle, Professor Homer Kelly.
Homer Kelly is back...a distinguished Thoreau scholar and professor of American literature, also an ex-detective for Middlesex County. But for now he's camped out at a small New England church, trying to figure out why so many parishioners are ending up dead so soon. Homer's job is to untangle murders from natural death. He finds the flock, so devout on Sundays, capable of breaking most commandments the other six days.
An explosion rocks the foundations of Harvard University’s stately Memorial Hall. Built a century ago to honor alumni who died defending the Union in the Civil War, the hall is a focal point of the campus. Now it is a crime scene. A corpulent body is found inside, decapitated by the blast. The dead man is Hamilton Dow, conductor of the school orchestra and one of the most beloved men on campus. The university’s president, James Cheever, couldn’t be more pleased.
Alice Snow is the first to die. In the morning, she and her friends at the Pond View Trailer Park watch soap operas, worrying about the lives of TV’s rich and powerful. A few hours later, a hiking Homer Kelly finds Alice lying outside her trailer, head smashed and heart stopped. Though her fellow Pond View residents do not realize it, their lives are in danger too.
Leaving Concord, Massachusetts, for a six-week sabbatical in Venice, Professor Homer Kelly finds bliss at a rare-books conference while his wife, Mary, sets out to photograph the magnificent churches, palaces, squares, and waterways of the city. Elsewhere, golden treasures, hidden for half a century, lead to a vicious killing. During one of her tourist excursions, Mary snaps a picture of the extremely handsome murderer who befriends and then seduces her.
When the Pope issues a sweeping edict calling for a yearlong war on drugs, no one is more surprised than the Vatican to find the campaign a success. In every Catholic corner of the world, young people throw down their needles to pick up crosses. In Florence, thousands of them converge on the Duomo to thank Christ for their newfound commitment to sobriety. Nearly everyone is relieved by this development - save for Leonardo Bindo, banker and druglord. To get his business back on track, he seizes upon a simple plan: Kill the Pope.
Somehow, against all odds, Homer Kelly has become famous. After decades toiling in academic obscurity, the Harvard professor has a book on the bestseller list. To capitalize on his sudden fame, Homer’s editor demands another book, and fast. Homer is working on Steeplechase, a tour of churches in and around his little patch of Massachusetts, and at his editor’s request he goes searching for some ancient gossip to spice up his new work. What he finds is a baffling Reconstruction-era mystery.