Cover Image: Agony Hill

Agony Hill

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Member Reviews

I throughly enjoyed this book. I did think it was going to be a darker book then it turned out to be. It had really good world building. I could picture all things well. The characters were memorable in I didn't get confused on trying to remember which person did what. I would read another book by her.

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This book is set in a very interesting world- the 1960s in rural Vermont. It's an era I have not read much about. Interesting takes on law enforcement of the times and the influence of the unpopular war in Vietnam.
Franklin Warren is a detective who is needing a change of scenery after some difficult times including losing his wife. He is given a job in Bethany Vermont and immediately encounters a case of a barn burning with a man dead inside, the door barred from the inside. Is it a suicide or something more sinister?
The Weber family (Hugh Weber was the man who died) were very interesting characters. The reader also meets Franklin's neighbor Alice Bellows who is an enigmatic character. It seemed to me that the story was laying the groundwork for subsequent books to go off in lots of different directions - maybe a little bit too much so.
The story is a bit slow paced but with an enjoyable plot. The evolution does seem to fit the setting - bit laid back.
This is definitely a character driven story with a very strong sense of place!
Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur books for the ARC to enjoy and review. I very much enjoyed it and will look out for next in series!

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Received a complimentary copy of Agony Hill by Alex Sarah Stewart Taylor from St. Martin's Press|Minotaur Books/NetGalley, for which I am appreciative, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Scroll past the BOOK REPORT section for a cut-and-paste of the DESCRIPTION of it from them if you want to read my thoughts on the book in the context of that summary.

My only complaint about this book is that it ended.

For real.

So Sarah Stewart Taylor needs to get on the stick and write more in the series!

OK, OK, I know I’m being ridiculous given that this book isn’t even slated for publication until August 6, 20204. But I’m sincere in my sentiments.

Imagine my shock when the description (aka flyleaf copy) turned out to actually be accurate!!

Guess I will just have to content myself with reading her other two series. Woohoo!

I think that’s more than enough exclamation marks for one week, let alone one Book Report, don’t you?

Set in rural Vermont in the volatile 1960s, Agony Hill is the first novel in a new historical series full of vivid New England atmosphere and the deeply drawn characters that are Sarah Stewart Taylor's trademark.

In the hot summer of 1965, Bostonian Franklin Warren arrives in Bethany, Vermont, to take a position as a detective with the state police. Warren's new home is on the verge of monumental change; the interstates under construction will bring new people, new opportunities, and new problems to Vermont, and the Cold War and protests against the war in Vietnam have finally reached the dirt roads and rolling pastures of Bethany.

Warren has barely unpacked when he's called up to a remote farm on Agony Hill. Former New Yorker and Back-to-the-Lander Hugh Weber seems to have set fire to his barn and himself, with the door barred from the inside, but things aren’t adding up for Warren. The people of Bethany—from Weber’s enigmatic wife to Warren's neighbor, widow and amateur detective Alice Bellows — clearly have secrets they’d like to keep, but Warren can’t tell if the truth about Weber’s death is one of them. As he gets to know his new home and grapples with the tragedy that brought him there, Warren is drawn to the people and traditions of small town Vermont, even as he finds darkness amidst the beauty.

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Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
The book is the first in a new series about a police detective that just moved to Bethany, Vermont from Boston. His name is Franklin Warren (just call him Warren) and he left Boston when his wife died. On his first day on the job in Bethany, there is a suspicious fire on Agony Hill where a man is killed. It appears to be a suicide but Warren must investigate to make sure, and to make a good impression at his new job.
I'm sure there are many who enjoy a slow paced mystery set in picturesque Vermont, but I am not one of them. I was hoping for an edge of your seat kind of thriller and this did not do it for me. The writing is beautiful, The words painted a perfect picture of the rural Vermont town, but honestly I was just bored throughout most of the book. I did enjoy the characters in the story and I really liked how we got different perspectives throughout the book. It just wasn't fast paced enough for me

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You can tell from the very beginning that this is the first book in a new series. The way we learn just enough about main character, Detective Franklin Warren and how he ended up in Vermont keeps you intrigued and wanting to know. The same can be said for his new name Mrs Alice Bellows and her mysterious past and her amateur sleuthing skills.

This series is set back in the 1960s so it has that historical significance to it as well as a police procedural at the very beginning of what we think as modern day police work with the emphasis on crime scene investigations.

I’m interested to see where this series is headed because I really enjoy Sarah Taylor Stewart’s Maggie D’arcy series.

Thank you @stmartinspress and @netgalley for this eARC in exchange for my honest feedback.

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A story can be written in the past without it being written like a children’s book from 1955. This is written like a Dick and Jane storybook. sort of fun, but I I don’t like reading about adult subjects that are at such a low level. Reminded me of the mysteries I read in elementary school. A lot of senses with the word “so” “so, what could it be” and “so, someone was watching her” in the same page is a bit much. The ideas were fine. The setting was fine, but the book was not good.

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In Agony Hill, we meet Vermont State Police Detective Franklin Warren, who has moved from Boston to the small town of Bethany, Vermont. Soon after his arrival, a local farmer dies mysteriously in a fire in his barn. The immediate conclusion is that Weber’s death was suicide but suspicions abound that it might have been murder. Weber was not well-liked and there was speculation that he mistreated his young wife. Warren, call him Warren, begins to investigate as he also begins to learn his way around town, trying to get to know his new townspeople.

Mysteries are plentiful. Aside from mystery of Weber’s death, Warren has a mysterious past, his next door neighbor, Alice, has her own mysterious past and is dealing with a mysterious, stalking presence in the future. We also encounter a mysterious theft at the general store, a mysterious, cult-leader sort know as the “Prophet” and a mysterious man hiding in the woods. The book opens with a mysterious encounter between Weber’s wife, Sylvia and a knife-wielding man.

Many of these mysteries linger and are referred to repeatedly throughout the book to the extent that they become distractions that add little to the storyline. The resolutions of most of these mysteries fail to satisfy. The truth about Maria, while tragic, did not resonate as strongly as we would have expected and Alice’s mysterious past doesn’t fully resolve at all (what did actually happen between Arthur and her). The mystery of Sylvie and the knife-wielding man, on the other hand, is seemingly forgotten, and is explicably never mentioned by Sylvie during the investigation of her husband’s death. We feel somewhat cheated when we finally learn the rest that story.

The writing was uneven in places. For example, one character describes being “dialed up to ten” in the big city but being “at zero” in the small town. (That does not sound like a mid-60s dialect.) Another chapter begins with “‘Is that Goodrich Hill Road as in …you?’ Warren asked Pinky as they followed the long dirt track out to Brook’s End, Jeffrey Sawyer’s place six miles out on a dirt road past Goodrich Hill Road Sunday morning.”

The book started out strong for me but ultimately failed to deliver. The book’s description of the small-town Vermont setting, was well-written and a strong point of the book. The temporal setting, the mid-1960s, is indicate by references to a number of events, but many of those have no real connection to the story and felt like unnecessary props. The resolution of the main mystery was not exactly predictable, but was somehow unsatisfactory.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

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A well written story with interesting characters. Hooked me from the start. Can't wait to see what happens next. ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

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Warren Franklin arrives in Bethany, Vermont to work as a police detective. He gets a case as soon as he arrives. all is not as it seems in the small town.

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This was a very atmospheric slow burn. I enjoyed reading it and felt the characters were well written. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this ARC!

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It felt like an small backwater town full of busy bodies. Everyone seemed to have their own take on what was going on in the home of one family. Hugh dies and suddenly a brother appears and a stranger camps in the forest. Most of the story is centered on Hugh's family and the new detective. Warren is trying to find his place in his new roll and wants to make a good impression. We follow his hunt for figuring out fires and deaths. Not a bad story, just was not one that caught my interest.

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Sarah Stewart Taylor’s “Agony Hill” is a well-written, historical mystery involving multiple deaths. At times, it reminded me of a cozy mystery. It focuses more on character development and setting than action or suspense. I enjoyed the novel, especially since it took me back to a time that seemed simpler and more innocent.

The time is 1965. The place is the small, rural town of Bethany, Vermont. Former Boston police detective, young Franklin Warner, has just arrived to take up his new post as a detective for the Vermont State Police. He’s barely had the chance to unpack his bags before being called to a barn fire in which a cantankerous and unpopular “back-to-the-land” farmer, Hugh Weber, has died, leaving a pregnant wife and young children to fend for themselves. Was it an accident? Was Hugh murdered? Or did he simply commit suicide, bothered as he was by the encroachments of progress (e.g., expanding population, a new interstate being built, etc.)

That is the mystery Warren must solve. He is aided by his neighbor, widow Alice Bellows, who’d lead quite the adventurous life as the wife of an American foreign service officer and is now committed to contributing to the welfare of her town and neighbors, including Weber’s widow, the oddly attractive Sylvie and her children.

Author Sarah Stewart Taylor has done a great job with her settings, giving readers crystal-clear pictures of the fictional Vermont town of Bethany and the farms and woodlands that surround it. She has also created some very interesting, multi-layered, and deeply human characters, many of whom (including Warren and Alice) have secrets they want to keep and that readers will keep turning the pages to learn.

The pacing seemed slow at times. There wasn’t all that much action or suspense. Nevertheless, Ms. Taylor succeeded in creating characters that were interesting and engaging enough for me to want to learn what happened to them.

Finally, while the main mystery was solved, certain plot lines were left open. I suspect a sequel may be in the works. If one does come along, I’ll look forward to reading it.

My thanks to NetGalley, author Sarah Stewart Taylor, and publisher St. Martin's Press | Minotaur Books for providing me with a complimentary ARC. The foregoing is my independent opinion.

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It would be easy to assume that a sleepy Vermont town in the 1960s would look like a place Beaver Cleaver and his family would feel right at home. And at first glance, Bethany, Vermont would likely seem that way.
"Agony Hill" opens with a bucolic scene - young boys helping their father on the family farm while mother, who is "in the family way", is in the kitchen. The boys are desperate to go to the swimming hole, but Mother insists they must finish their chores first. The scene is so vivid the reader can almost see the boys, freckled and barefoot, racing to finish. A dangerous stranger intrudes on the scene, and with no warning, we're sent down the rabbit hole and made to understand that nothing in Bethany is as it seems.
There are strangers arriving in Bethany with dark secrets. But the townspeople have secrets of their own and some of them are deadly. The tension is built throughout the book and the reader is left with unanswered questions until almost the very end. The town of Bethany is described so vividly it becomes a character in the book, and like all the other characters, it has its dark side.
There are elements of the story that seem almost unbelievable, but Taylor weaves the story so skillfully that you really aren't left questioning the logic of it all. It's a very well-written and captivating story that seems destined to be a Netflix hit.

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I first came upon Sarah Stewart Taylor through the Sweeney St George series so was pleased when I recorded this from Net Galley in return for an honest review of this first installment of a new series.

Warren Franklin, newly hired as a detective in a small but growing town in Vermont, is escaping his own ghosts when a recent spate of crimes hands him investigating more than he bargained for as his first case.

Ms Taylor has a way with building a story piece by piece, person by person, incident by incident allowing the reader to walk into the book as if we were bystanders in town, watching everything unfold.

This is well written, compelling characters and an interestingly well woven plot. More complex than a cozy mystery this will appeal to mystery lovers as well as those that love a good story.

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This was a lovely, gentle, thoughtful book, almost elegiac in tone. The story flows through the beautifully-described setting and well-established cast of characters, giving the puzzling mystery at the center a richer, deeper context.

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced readers copy of this special book.

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A lovely mystery set in beautiful Vermont. There was a few more details I wish could've been added but overall it was a good book.

Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for my ARC!


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holy crap!!!!! this book is sooooo intense and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. excellent plot. bravo sarah!!!!!

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I cant wait to read the next book in this series. While the story was slow at times and I did skim read a few chapters, I really enjoyed the atmospheric vibes. The author did a great job at painting a picture of the town and setting. I really enjoyed the characters as well.  
Thank you NetGalley and Minotaur Books for this ARC!

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Absolutely Loved this quiet novel set in a small town in Vermont in the mid 1960s. it has great characters with real depth, a town with some secrets, real world issues slowing encroaching on the town's rural isolation and bringing more crime. Can't wait to find more books like this one.

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This was my first Sarah Stewart Taylor book and I was drawn to it because of the time period and the fact that it was listed as historical fiction and mystery & thriller. While I loved the atmospheric setting and the era in which the story takes place, the mystery and character development fell flat. There are many characters within this story that felt unnecessary and their appearances slowed the pace quite a bit for me. I considered DNFing this point at the 40% mark but ended up skimming through to the end just to see if my suspicions about the ending were true. For the most part, they were, though I'd hoped for more emotion and excitement.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for allowing me the opportunity to provide my honest feedback on this ARC.

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