Cover Image: Agony Hill

Agony Hill

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Member Reviews

Thank you @netgalley for the ARC of of Agony Hill by Sarah Stewart Taylor. This is party family drama and part mystery. It’s a first in a series and I’m looking forward to reading the others. I really enjoy books like this because you get to know the characters and the town with the element of suspense as well.

The book takes place in 1965 in Vermont. Franklin Warren moves to the area and is new on the police force. He gets called to the house of the Webers where Hugh is dead by apparent suicide. Franklin sets out to uncover the truth behind Hugh’s death.

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It is the 1960’s in rural Vermont when Franklin Warren arrives in Bethany.
Ready to begin his position as a detective with the state police.

We know something has happened in his recent past, but we don’t know what yet.
He gets thrown into the deep end right away. A suspicious fire with a death up on Agony Hill. With a fatality.

The folks at the farm are different. Not mixing with the other towns folk, and the dad has some pretty out there conspiracy theories! But how did he die in a fire with the only door locked from the inside?

It’s a mystery. And it is not the only one in town.

This is a wonderful story with characters you are invested in right away. I’m not sure I have ever read anything quite like it. It felt real.

An author to watch.


NetGalley/ St. Martin’s Press/ Minotaur August 06, 2024

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Wow! What an atmospheric read. This is a beautifully written historical fiction novel with everything crime stories need to thrive. The small town in Vermont is the stage of a collection of horrors and secrets, all kept quiet by the tenants who live in the homes. It is unique following the story through a male perspective, a much appreciated take on the thriller genre. As the detective searches to find answers to some of the town's greatest secrets, he finds that uncovering more secrets may not actually be a good thing.

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I really want to thank Sarah Stewart Taylor and Minotaur for my invitation to read this advanced reader's copy of the book through NetGalley. It was a privilege. This is my own personal and unsolicited opinion. It's an excellent read.
As I began to read, I was caught up in the danger that one homesteading-type family seemed to be facing. Boston native Franklin Warren has accepted a new assignment as a detective in the Vermont town of Bethany. He is immediately thrust into an investigation into the death of a not so well-liked man living on Agony Hill. The atmosphere created by the author felt like the life in small town mid 1960's to me. I lived that growing up in Maine. There is more than one mystery going on here and I'm so pleased to learn that this is a series.
There are interesting characters with their own stories here. Suspense builds, surprise, possible spies and darkness lurks about. Vermont is shown here in its beauty and ruggedness. I've been in this area on a vacation, White River Junction, and it is beautiful. This town will be sure to be filled with stories as progress and life flows and changes.
I personally like that there is very little slang language and that this is what I would term a clean read. It is intelligently and tastefully written. The author led me to care about the central characters.
I look forward to more in this series.

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A murder mystery set in 1960s Vermont. Taylor creates a really vibrant setting that deconstructs any notions the reader might have about idyllic small town life, and some memorable characters, including the detective with a heart of gold and a dark past. Definitely interested to see where this series continues.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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I was invited to read this book by the publisher, and while it was not a book that I would have personally selected for myself, I wound up really liking this book! I thought the author did an excellent job of creating normal, relatable characters, as well as writing really good descriptions of the setting so that the reader felt like they were within the setting itself. This was also not your typical book where the resolution or culprit comes to mind easily. The reader really gets to know these characters and their backgrounds, and winds up going along on a good detective story. Lots of great characters and I really enjoyed this book!

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This is the first book I’ve read from this author. I will definitely be reading more. Good plot. Lots of characters and their interactions and flaws. I highly recommend this book b

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I’m a huge fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Irish mystery series and was interested to see how I would feel about a book set in 1960 rural Vermont. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, the slow pace, the small town/rural farm setting and the author’s familiar strong characters. The mystery plot was well developed and I did not solve it until close to the end. I so hope this is the start of a new series.

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Thanks to St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this ARC of Sarah Stewart Taylor's 'Agony Hill.'

I hadn't heard of this author before and this isn't my typical area of reading but the description I received was enticing and I thought maybe it's a series I can dip into for lighter enjoyment along the lines of Craig Johnson's 'Longmire' series (though, as it turned out, Longmire is a lot darker than 'Agony Hill.')

It's 1965 and a still-young detective relocates from Boston to rural Vermont following an initially unspecified tragedy, a story which emerges over the course of the book, where he becomes a member of Vermont's recently created state police. He's dropped right into an arson-caused suicide or murder, it's up to him to figure out which it is. It's a small town and it's not long before he's interacting with the local police chief, doctor, attorney, and his neighbor Mrs Bellows, among others. The unfolding of that case is well handled, I liked the pace and the wrong turns and the closing in on the truth.

Beyond the absence of 21st century technology and a theme of the Vietnam war and draft there's not too much here that places the story in the mid-60s, but the author does convey the social niceties and norms of the time very well in the writing.

It's the first in a series so there's some very understandable and necessary establishing of the characters and locale that will undoubtedly form the core dramatis personae as this series progresses. A young trooper who we're told a billion times blushes a lot, a (very annoying and unpleasant, to me) Murder She Wrote/Jessica Fletcher-type character in Mrs Bellows, the disdainful local police chief, the local attorney and doctor (whose pretty daughter will, no doubt, feature in future) and others.

It'll be interesting to see where this story goes as it tackles the evolution of an ostensibly Eden-like Vermont into which the outside world is literally (the interstate is being plowed through the countryside) and figuratively encroaching. I don't think I'll join that journey though since it didn't grip me hard enough to pull me along.

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In the beginning I liked the book. I felt it was a bit slow throughout, but it kept my interest. I enjoyed the authors writing style and would read her again in the future. My only gripe was that the “mystery” was pretty simple to figure out from the beginning. Didn’t leave much to solve. Also, I was a little unclear why Alice was even much a part of the book. She seemed like a nosey old lady and I found myself skimming thru her chapters. Was unclear as well as what her husband being a secret agent had anything to do with the plot. It also left a hole in Warrens wife murder. Was it ever really said who or did his family do it? Some of these story lines just felt unnecessary to me. I would’ve liked more focus on the main plots. Either way, I will try another of the authors books if / when as I did like the writing style and the subject matter. Thanks for letting me read /review.

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Thanks Netgalley for allowing me to read this book. Franklin has moved to a quiet town in the east coast. His first case he needs to solve leads to more questions than answers. This book kept me thinking from the start.

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Because I’m such a fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Maggie D’Arcy mysteries set in Ireland, I was a little reluctant to try the first in a new historical mystery series set in small-town Vermont in the mid-1960s. I should have known Taylor wouldn’t steer readers wrong with Agony Hill.

Franklin Warren is the new detective with the Vermont State Police, but he doesn’t even have a chance to settle into his new position in Bethany when he’s called to what could be a crime scene. A barn on the top of Agony Hill is half-consumed with fire, and there’s a body inside. Is Hugh Weber a murder victim or did he commit suicide? The barn door is barred from the inside, and the victim was drunk. Did he copy another suicidal farmer who protested the interstate coming through farmland in Vermont? Why did he leave his widow, Sylvie, with four sons and another baby on the way?

Warren doesn’t yet know any of the neighbors, so he relies on a young trooper, Pinky, who is local. Warren’s mysterious neighbor, Alice Farnham Bellows, seems to know most of the secrets in town. And, if she doesn’t know them, Alice knows who to ask. Her late husband was in the OSS during the war, and Alice still has some connections to the intelligence community.

When there’s another fire on Agony Hill, Warren’s early theories are no longer pertinent. And, there are just some secrets related to the Cold War and Vietnam that might remain hidden, hindering his investigation.

Agony Hill slowly unfolds, introducing an intriguing cast of characters, and some secrets that might or might not be revealed in future books. Warren has a troubled past, left behind in Boston, but it still makes him vulnerable, and compassionate. Vermont, changing due to the interstate, Vietnam, and the influx of new people, is vividly described, almost a character in the book.

Taylor doesn’t let anyone down in this traditional historical mystery. Fans of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries set in upstate New York might want to try Agony Hill.

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I am a long time fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor, specifically the Maggie D'Arcy series. It did not take much convincing for me to read book 1 in a new series, centred around Detective Franklin Warren and his intriguing neighbour Mrs. Bellows who has an unusual and hidden past. Unlike the more contemporary D'Arcy series, this new series is set in the mid-1960s in a small community in Vermont. Taylor's mysteries are known for their tight plotting, deeply drawn characters, and convincing sense of place and time and Agony Hill is a worthy addition to her oeuvre. The mystery unfolds slowly, the town's eccentric characters are introduced and weave in and out of the story, and the narrative takes place against the larger themes of the USA's involvement in Vietnam and the civil rights struggle. I am looking forward to the next in the series. Thank you to St. Martin's Press Minotaur Books and NetGalley for e-Arc.

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Agony Hill
By Sarah Stewart Taylor
Minotaur Books St. Martin's Publishing Group
Review by Glenda

The cover of Agony Hill jumped out from the others on the Net Galley Library and I was drawn in. A name like Agony Hill certainly makes one wonder what may lie within. Sarah Stewart Taylor writes with an eloquent balance that drew this reader in and kept me there. I will be sure to look for more of her work. I enjoyed the character development and the plot was uncomplicated with enough mystery to keep me flipping the pages. Sarah gave me a nice little plot twist that achieved a satisfying ending. I rate Agony Hill 4 out of 5 and I would recommend Agony Hill to those who enjoy mysteries as well as those who enjoy small-town Americana.
Thank you to NetGalley for the copy to review.

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I was so happy with my choice to read this book! It was based in the the 1960's when big city detective starts his first day in rural Vermont. Det. Warren was dropped right in the middle of a fire/arson case. He uses his detective skills to solve more than one crime, while also showing his compassion and vulnerable side while solving the cases. I enjoyed this book so very much and I am happy to know that it is the start of a series! I will be waiting patiently!

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In 1965, Franklin Warren assumes the role of Detective with the Vermont State Police. He moved from Boston to the small town of Bethany. His first night in Bethany ends with a fatal barn fire that kills a local farmer, Hugh Weber. Detective Warren has no time to relax and get to know his new neighbors or town before having to jump into the Weber case. The town and other members of the police department believe that Weber’s death was suicide, but Warren has some suspicions. Detective Warren gets to know his neighbors and other town folk as he investigates Weber’s “suicide.” During his investigation, other incidents start to occur, and secrets start to unfold.
This story has a great setting, and I enjoyed the timeframe, however, the overall story was drawn out. I struggled to get into this book and had to force myself to finish it because I hate DNF'ing books. I found myself skimming sections multiple times because I felt it went into tangents that had no relevance to the story. The characters were well written, and the descriptive writing allowed me to immerse myself in the life and surroundings of Det. Warren. This was my first Sarah Stewart Taylor book, and I wasn’t aware that it was the start of a series. Unfortunately, this story missed the thrill factor for me, so I don’t foresee reading future books in this series. For those that like historical mystery fictions without suspense or thrill, this is a great option.
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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This is a clever and sophisticated mystery recommended for fans of literary fiction. There are also some similarities to Jane Harper and Tana French. If you're looking for a super fast-paced "popcorn thriller," look elsewhere. But if you want a well-written character-driven mystery, this will be a winner for you.

The characters really make this story come alive. I especially liked Pinky and Sylvia, but they're all great. As the narrative progresses, Vermont almost becomes a character of its own; there's a definite sense of place that resonates through the pages.

The time period is expertly conveyed. In that way, this book reminded me of THE LONGEST NIGHT by Andria Williams.

Endings are super tricky with mysteries, but this one is satisfying.

I'll be looking for more from this author.

Thank you to NetGalley & St. Martin's Press for this ARC; all opinions in this review are completely my own.

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"Agony Hill" is a gripping mystery set against the backdrop of a changing Vermont in the 1960s.

The characters are well-developed, and the small town setting is vividly depicted. The plot is engaging and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Franklin Warren is a likable protagonist, and his interactions with the residents of Bethany add depth to the story. Overall, "Agony Hill" is a well-written and intriguing novel that will keep mystery lovers entertained.

I give it 4 stars.

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A Boston cop who has left the city under circumstances that are both apparently traumatic and unclear moves to a small town in Vermont in 1965, where he soon gets a case. A crotchety farmer who espoused "back to the land" living (while being an incompetent farmer) has died in a fire. He apparently had been drinking, may have been composing one of his many letters to the editor complaining about something, and died after locking the door to the barn he's found in. Suicide? Maybe. There was a similar case not too far away by a farmer protesting the building of the interstate through his land, a modern development the dead man also opposed. But it's not an explanation the detective entirely buys...

What made the story for me was the development of characters, including a neighbor who had been involved in intelligence during the war and the dead farmer's family, back-to-the-land outcasts with a dreamy mother who grew up poor and uneducated but is drawn to write poetry. Though the town is isolated and conservative, there's a growing sense that the draft and the war protests can't be held at bay.

The pacing is not speedy, but I didn't mind a bit. The questions are not all answered, and I was fine with that, too. I'm very much looking forward to reading more about this place and these people.




I loved this story and will be interested in future entries in the series.

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A well written mystery with believable characters. The setting is fantastic, and the attitudes of the characters draw the reader in. Well done.

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