Based upon an actual event, Becky Thacker spins a psychological drama set in a Michigan farming community where, amid the austerity of Bible Christianity and Victorian prudery, a woman dies in agony and a family is almost destroyed. Written with clarity and restraint, Thacker explores the mysterious death of her own great grandmother, Anna Thacker, weaving extracts from court records, letters, and newspapers into a seamless narrative. Was it murder or suicide? Anna’s children stand helplessly by as their mother succumbs to a mysterious illness and their father is accused of poisoning her. While determined to clear their father’s name, the five Thacker children, under the guidance of determined Ralph and gentle Lottie, band together to hang onto their home and to each other. They realize, as does the reader, that their quiet, self-effacing mother has been the strength of the family. One sees that the influence of a strict but loving mother can never be underestimated, for Anna keeps her family going long after her death. In the meantime, the youngsters must deal with scheming Aunt Charlotte, Anna’s pietistic sister, whose jealousy of Anna and her husband William is always seeking an outlet. The author skillfully builds layer upon layer of layer of enigma. Do Charlotte’s problems originate with the murder of her own mother during an Indian raid? Would devout Anna really have committed suicide? Should Ralph burn Charlotte’s journal which provides more information than he ever wanted to know about her twisted mind? These questions, and many others, are part of the story of the Thacker family, brought to life with vividly accurate descriptions of the bleak conditions of farm life as well as the moments of warmth and amity by the fireside.
(*NOTE: This review was originally published in the November 2011 issue of the Historical Novels Review. Faithful Unto Death was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)