The Smuggler's Secrets

I was finally able to get my hands on the six books published this year! I only have them briefly while I'm on a trip, so the summaries are brief as well.

Published in 2015; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrator Juliana Kolesova


Caroline is staying with her cousin Lydia, whose family is having a hard time due to the war. Many of their neighbors are in similar straits, with a drought worsening things. Rumor has it that some of the people where Lydia lives are smuggling goods to the British. Even though they're fighting the British, destitute farmers might become desperate and sell meat or potash (made from lye and used for gunpowder) or other goods to the enemy. The British are paying well for smuggled goods, and for a family on the brink of starvation, it's tempting.

Still, Caroline and Lydia have a hard time believing that people would help the enemy during wartime. They decided to poke around the town to see if they can find any clues for Mr. Lennox, a lawman looking for smugglers. Caroline gets worried when she overhears an argument between her aunt and uncle about the uncle doing something dangerous that pays well. Is he going to start smuggling to support his family? Caroline doesn't share her suspicions with her cousin as the two continue to investigate.

But Caroline's not the only one watching her uncle--Mr. Lennox soon arrests him. Now Lydia wants to work harder to clear her father's name. Caroline continues the search for clues as well, hoping her concerns about her uncle are wrong. As the plot advances, the cousins find a hidden clearing where someone's been making potash, a secret road, and overhear conversation that indicates a neighbor didn't have his oxen stolen--he slaughtered them and sold the meat to the British. The cousins start to wonder about their friend Rhonda, whose widower father is very well-off...and who has some fabric that is made in England.

As they investigate further, Caroline and Lydia find that some kind neighbors are selling potash across the border--their older son was killed by enemy soldiers, and extorting as much money as possible from the enemy is one way they can think to get revenge. Furthermore, the neighbor who claimed to have had his oxen stolen is actually running goods across the lake. He's sickly, and wanted to earn a cache of money to support his wife when his illness inevitably takes him. Caroline and Lydia inform Mr. Lennox what they've learned, and it turns out he's been suspicious of the same neighbors but unable to gather evidence.

That's why Mr. Lennox hired Caroline's uncle--his dangerous work wasn't smuggling, but covertly gathering information. The arrest was fake, to throw the real smugglers off the trail. With the help gotten from Caroline, Lydia, and Caroline's uncle, Mr. Lennox arrests the real smugglers.

Inside Caroline's World

Following an 1807 law forbidding United States citizens from buying or selling goods made in other countries, smugglers could make a tidy profit on the black market. There was still a high demand among the British for the products, and subsistence farmers on the edges of the frontiers didn't always care about the politics back in the nation's capital. 


This book is dedicated to Stephanie.

There's a subplot about having a quilting bee with the neighbors. Caroline and Rhonda (from the previous mystery) made a quilt top for Lydia, and several neighbors gather to help piece it with some wool for batting and backing.

One meal Caroline eats at her aunt and uncle's is a watery soup, made of what they could harvest from the drought-stricken garden and the meager catch from hunting. Soup's a good way to spread out small amounts of food--my girls love Mickey's Christmas Carol (so do I), and the scene when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge how the Cratchits are just scraping by bugs me, because they're eating a tiny bird, like a game hen, with a few vegetables and the food is broiled. Make it into soup so the bones can make a richer stock, and the water can fill you up so you don't feel hungry!

Caroline learns that Rhonda has illegal fabric when one of Mr. Lennox's deputies threatens to arrest Caroline after seeing some of the fabric in a patchwork bag she sewed. She'd gotten the fabric scraps from Rhonda, who it turns out traded some of her own fabric stash for fabric from one of the smuggler neighbors.

One of the "bad guys" has the same last name as an elementary school teacher of mine...I would be very surprised to find that teacher smuggling.