Dogtown is a dying town at the heart of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Many people left to make better lives for themselves. Those remaining inhabitants are the poor: widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, drunkards and blacks, called freed slaves. There are even stray dogs who have made their way into town, and have made Dogtown their home.
It is the winter of 1814, ABRAHAM Wharf has died. It was CORNELIUS Finson aka Black Neal, who found Abraham with a long knife in his hand. Cornelius carried the corpse to EASTER Carter's home, because it was the largest home in Dogtown and the people could come there to pay their final respects. Abraham was placed in the corner of the parlor, with yellow gingham cloth covering his face and his chest. Easter then sends Cornelius to find relatives in town to carry Abraham Wharf's body back to Gloucester for a Christian burial.
JUDY Rhines, a poor lonely spinster is the first to arrive. Greyling, a stray dog is her best friend, She is also a good friend of Easter. Judy goes to see Abraham, lifts up the cloth and wonders why there is a curious lack of blood on his throat. Shouldn't his collar be soaked in blood? Shouldn't his hands be stained, his sleeves caked? Perhaps Easter had cleaned it up OR did she?
RUTH arrives and wherever she goes she brings mystery. She is a coffee-colored African who wears trousers and a cap, has never been seen in a dress and prefers the name of "John Woodman." However, she is known as Black Ruth. She is a stonemason and lives in Easter's attic. Judy is curious and hopes to one day find out more of Ruth's story. Also, there is Abraham's sister MARY Lurvey, who can't stop weeping. There is OLIVER, twelve years old, accompanied by his peculiar AUNT TAMMY, often called a witch and is ill-humored. The door opens and in comes MRS. STANLEY, owner of the town brothel and her grandson, SAMMY. She brings with her a bottle of Rum in memory of Master Wharf, to go with Easter's cabbage and potatoes. When Sammy first arrived to Dogtown, he had a note pinned to his coat. No one knew who this child was, but Mrs. Stanley introduced him as her daughter's son. No one knew she had a daughter and no one believed her. Finally, a door opens and Abraham's two grandsons have arrived to pick up their grandfather.
It was over. No one would be going to Abraham Wharf's funeral. The poor winter roads wouldn't allow it. It was time for everyone to return to their crumbling houses to sleep off the effects of the rum. Dogtown turned out to bid farewell to Abraham Wharf.
Judy Rhines is a very important character in this book. She is the glue that holds the story together. She is fiercely independent and a lonely soul. She was abandoned by her father, yet in spite of all the difficulties, she strives to make a better life for herself. Is she able to succeed? What happens to all the other folks? There are lots of twists and turns, which will hold your interest from beginning to end.
Anita Diamant's book is beautifully written and full of emotion and sensitivity. In her writing, you can feel the pain and loneliness and yet, as hard as life was, the townsfolk never gave up.
I enjoyed this book immensely and give it my highest recommendation of FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS.