Rattlesnake Hill

It’s November in the Berkshires, a dreary time of dwindling light when the tourists have fled along with the last gasp of fall foliage. So when a stranger shows up in the sleepy hilltown of New Nottingham and starts asking questions, the locals don’t exactly roll out the welcome wagon.


Bostonian Kathryn Stinson is on a deeply personal quest to solve a family mystery: the identity of a nameless beauty in an old photograph an ancestor brought with him to California over a century ago. But, as Kathryn quickly discovers, the hills possess a host of dark secrets – both ancient and new – that can only be revealed at the price of danger and even death.

Her suspicious neighbors on Rattlesnake Hill, named for the timber rattlers that haunt its rocky slopes, become openly hostile when Kathryn starts seeking answers to a more recent mystery: the murder of Diana Farley, who once occupied the house Kathryn is now renting. Was it Diana’s husband, who killed her to keep her from divorcing him, or her lover, Earl Barker, a backwoods charmer and leading member of a wild clan known for their violent tempers?

When Kathryn plunges into a passionate affair with Earl, she puts herself on a collision course with past and present. She must find out if Earl killed Diana, or risk becoming a victim herself.

October 18, 2021

I enjoyed this story; the characters and the mysteriousness of it . I was sure I had figured out the killer and was surprised in the end

Amy S.
November 13, 2018

Rattlesnake Hill’s main character, Kathryn Stinson, wants to solve a family mystery, but her investigation blossoms into so much more the further she digs. As an outsider, she has to enlist some locals to help find the information she needs, but not all in this idyllic-looking town turn out to be friendly or helpful. Quite the opposite, in fact. Readers will enjoy how the plot of this mystery unfolds. It is a well-written start to what promises to be an intriguing series. (I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Susan B. Iwanisziw
September 13, 2018

A taut story of suspense set in the remote Berkshires, RATTLESNAKE HILL is the perfect winter read before a blazing wood fire while ice cracks tree branches, wind howls down the chimney, and dread and suspicion knock at the front door. The central metaphor of this tale is the blindness that afflicts every member of this New Nottingham community, whether physical, emotional, or intellectual. It also insinuates itself into the psyches of newcomers—in this case, unworldly Kathryn, traumatized by her childhood, who is determined to solve a minor mystery concerning an ancestor who left town as a young man. In a cat-and-mouse game with a half-demented elderly woman preparing to die, Kathryn learns of two never-resolved murders. The first appears to implicate her ancestor in the killing of his straying wife and the deliberate blinding of her lover; and the second murder—while a closed case to the police—appears to implicate the unpleasant owner of the house that Kathryn rents while pursuing her research. This murder also hinges on a straying wife brutally shot to death. The victim’s memory is kept alive by her former lover, the “hillbilly” hunk Earl Barker. The town is no rural paradise. It hosts crude and cruel men and their long-suffering wives and girlfriends, and rumors abound. Kathryn learns to tread gingerly as she goes about her inquiries. But despite his ex-wife’s warnings, she falls for Earl. His poetic gift and physical allure override his history, and Kathryn launches herself blindly into an affair satisfying beyond her wildest imagination. But when the veil is lifted from her eyes, will she remain blind to the truth or embrace it?

June 4, 2018

In Rattlesnake Hill, Leslie Wheeler has written us a riveting page-turner set in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. Bostonian curator Kathryn Stinson arrives in these hill towns searching for answers about her own family history and a mysterious antique photograph of a beautiful young woman. In the process, Kathryn is challenged to find a stubbornly closed community with layers of interconnections and dark secrets. An elderly oral historian shares dramatic stories of local families with her, but only in reluctant, frustrating drives and drabs. A growing love interest for Kathryn comes with a challenging family, uncertain behaviors and his own complicated backstory. And there is a mythical – or not – white stag who appears in the forest at opportune moments. Who could ask for more from accomplished storyteller Leslie Wheeler? A fine read.

Frances McNamara
June 3, 2018

Love triangles and death in the atmospheric Berkshires haunt Kathryn Stinson. She comes to small town in the hills and rents a house that belonged to the dead Diana Farley while searching for the history of a mysterious woman from a century ago whose picture travelled to California with Kathryn’s ancestor. Who was she and what happened to her? Drawn into a love of the land and a passionate affair with a local man, Kathryn is also drawn into the aftermath of a more recent tragedy. Finding the truth could cost her her life in this entertaining romantic thriller.

Susan Oleksiw
April 19, 2018

The charming countryside of the Berkshires has a dark side, which Kathryn Stinson, a curator currently on leave from her Boston job, discovers when she arrives to track down an old family mystery. With photograph of an unidentified woman in hand, she seeks out locals who might have answers about an ancestor who left the area decades earlier. She hopes to learn the secret about the photograph from Emily Goodale, an elderly woman who was born and raised in the area who teases Kathryn with requirements of what she must see and learn before she can ask Emily any questions. The postmistress Millie does her best to help when she can. But Kathryn isn’t the only newcomer. She rents a house whose owner, Diana Farley, an activist and free spirit, was killed in an accidental shooting on her property. Diana’s husband shows up periodically to rummage through boxes in the attic, looking for material for an upcoming photography exhibit, or so he says. Kathryn finds his unexpected appearances unnerving and suspect, especially after she begins to question Diana’s death. Even more concerning are the members of the Barker family, who live farther up Rattlesnake Hill. Earl, the middle of three sons, is a local landscaper who takes care of the Farley home. He’s surly, brooding, and a suspect in Diana’s death. When Kathryn finds a stuffed rattler in the house, the story sets a quick pace of rapidly shifting suspicions, unexpected encounters, discoveries that undermine assumptions, and an abiding sense that the locals are withholding something. The characters are well drawn, and Kathryn’s changing views of the people who surround her keep her (and the reader) forever off balance. I was given an ARC by the author in exchange for a fair review.

Lisa Lieberman
March 27, 2018

A gothic mystery with passion, jealousy, betrayal, and a century-old tragedy at the heart of it all. Think Wuthering Heights or Rebecca: the past haunts the present, with characters seemingly doomed to repeat the same mistakes until finally the truth comes out. Leslie Wheeler creates a menacing environment from the outset, luring us in against our better judgment. Like Kathryn, her heroine, we must piece together the fragments of stories only half-told, or half-remembered, to unravel the mystery of her ancestor’s death amid distrust, threats, "accidental" deaths and plain old nastiness from the inhabitants of a community who do not want to give up their secrets.

Books are love
February 28, 2018

Knowing the Berkshires so well I was really excited to see where this book was taking place and how that area played a part in the storyline. You see old haunts and the small town feel definitely shine through. And a legend from the area of the White Stag as well. There is the stereotyping of small town people seen by those from the city and also vice versa. The story is very interesting and takes you into the moments with the characters. You can feel the indecision of Kathryn and how confused she is. See behind the rumors of Earl and what kind of guy he really is behind the pranks he made. Emily is odd but as you read you see that she is trying to find peace with herself and for the pasts of others that have caused pain to so many. Kathryn is a smart, kind woman. She has come to town with a past that causes her pain and she is trying to overcome but also wanting to find out more about her family. A family that is a mystery to her and she wants to unravel. Especially the woman in the photo. so she rents a house and begins to search for answers. Only the answers bring about more questions and tales of the town. We learn about deaths and the mystery surrounding them. Watch as these play a part in the all she learns about those around her and the past. Her family past is really tangled in a web of deceit and a love triangle. One that helps to confuse Kathryn when it comes to her feelings and Earl. why Earl? As she gets to know him she starts to fall for him. He helps her find a safespace and to feel she can let go and lift the weights of her childhood off of her. He helps her feel free and start to let someone in. Problem is she has Alan and that is a hard one to watch come apart because he was a genuinely nice guy. As we see though Kathryn is embroiled in the past and deaths that are associated with it and Earl. As her and Earl come together they are tested and we see some reveals occur. The adage oh what a tangled web we weave when one practices to deceive is really seen in this book. We see the mystery of Diana’s death and what really happened. We see the mystery of her family and the death there as well play out. And the truth comes out as well and it is a whopper. There are hints but it is hard to believe that it is what it is in the end. Earl is the small town boy who works hard and is a joker. When he loves, he loves passionately. He is close to family and is very level headed. He also helps Kathryn after playing some jokes on her because he sees she is a nice person. He sees beyond the facade and who she is on the inside. As they unravel the mystery of her and his family in a way, danger surrounds them and you wonder what is the truth and what isn’t. Who is in danger and who is causing the danger. A story of intrigue, mystery, the past, love and trust. Of family and finding peace and making amends. One that has several plots that intertwine to give a whole picture that is romantic and sad but also deadly. A well written story that keeps you on your toes and rotting for Kathryn and Earl to figure it all out before it is too late for them to find their happiness.

Jacqueline Seewald
January 25, 2018

Bostonian Kathryn Stinson is trying to solve a family mystery. An ancestor brought the photo of a beautiful woman with him to California over a century ago. No one knows who she was. Kathryn decides to rent a house in the Berkshires in the town he came from. But in trying to investigate this old mystery she discovers that there were actually two women who died in the backwoods town of New Nottingham under suspicious circumstances a century apart. Both deaths have certain similarities and involve the same families. Kathryn is caught up in love, passion, danger, and violence. Earl Barker is an attractive man, but his family is a vicious, wild clan. Kathryn isn’t certain who or what to believe but feels the need to get at the truth. In so doing, she places her own life in jeopardy. This modern Gothic romantic mystery is engrossing and well-written. Descriptive passages put the reader directly into the story. Recommended.

R. M. Hungate
January 22, 2018

I found it to be a pretty good "damsel in distress" type mystery.  A decent combo of a romance and a mystery. A few red herrings, lots of possible villains, a bit of conflicted romance, a some good local color. Strong enough that I’m going to seek out her other books.

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