Author Eleanor Sullivan will have a reading and book-signing for “Cover Her Body” 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
In her latest mystery, Eleanor Sullivan, a former dean of the Kansas University School of Nursing, has re-created in vivid detail a small town in 1830s Ohio, founded by her German immigrant ancestors, with one exception: a murder.
Sullivan’s latest book, “Cover Her Body,” is set in Zoar (rhymes with “oar”), a real town in east-central Ohio. Its history is colorful, even bizarre.
Zoar’s founders, the Society of Separatists, fled religious persecution in Germany, entered the U.S., and found work with the help of Quakers. To earn the money to pay off the town mortgage, the industrious immigrants helped build the Ohio Canal. A seven-year ban on marriage and sex helped the Separatists, with their 2-to-1 ratio of women to men, stay focused on this and other town-building tasks, Sullivan says.
But there never was a murder. The historian she worked with, Kathy Fernandez, of the Ohio State Historical Society, wants to make that clear, Sullivan adds.
The novel’s protagonist, Adelaide, a young midwife and herbalist, discovers 16-year-old Johanna floating dead in the river. Adelaide’s own demons drive her to unravel the mystery, despite pressure to stop from her husband and the community.
More complications arise when Adelaide’s questioning attracts outside authorities, and she finds herself attracted to another man.
Like her protagonist, author Sullivan is unafraid of challenges. Widowed at 32 with five children, she entered nursing school despite hearing she was too old, it would take too long and would cost too much.
Since then, she’s earned her doctorate, authored papers, articles and award-winning nursing textbooks, served on a National Institute of Health committee, and testified before the Senate.
Sullivan turned to fiction to show how real nurses work — something contemporary media mostly fail to do, she says.
“Medical shows focus on doctors,” Sullivan says. “But it’s nurses with their medical and decision-making expertise who care for patients 24 hours a day.”
Sullivan, who currently lives in St. Louis, writes murder mysteries, because that’s what she loves to read, she says. Sullivan’s first three novels are contemporary, featuring ICU nurse Monika Everhardt in “Twice Dead,” “Deadly Diversion” and “Assumed Dead.”
In “Cover Her Body,” Sullivan adds painstaking historical research to her fiction, inspired by her grandmother’s tales of the Separatists and visits to Zoar with siblings and children.
Though the Separatist community disbanded in 1858 after its domineering patriarch Joseph Bimeler died, Zoar still exists as an historic site and tourist attraction.
Sullivan’s research showed her that life in Zoar was similar in some ways to our own.
“People still had their fears, hopes and dreams,” Sullivan says. “In the end, they were people just like us.”
Cover her Body, Yesteryear Press, is available at the Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St. in Lawrence.