I read about the “Mystery of Maple Island” my very first season on the island. So I’m long familiar with the legend that a man murdered in 1864 on Maple Island had something to do with the Knights of the Golden Circle and the assassination of President Lincoln. According to the book jacket, Donna Walsh Inglehart’s newly released book, Grindstone: A Novel, was a fictionalized retelling of that legend I’d heard so many years ago. Last week, I settled into an Adirondack chair, sitting on our west rock to catch a cool breeze and began reading.
GRINDSTONE A Novel by Donna Walsh Inglehart
Immediately, I was struck by the spellbinding descriptions of the river and the islands. For years, I have tried to describe the smell of the St. Lawrence and have never been quite able to do it. Donna did. With evocative language, Donna captured the essence of the region and its many moods as the seasons wash over the islands. I have never wintered in the islands, but now after reading Donna’s book, I feel that I have. Donna’s description of the islands comes from personal experience. Her husband’s family has been in the area since the War of 1812. Donna and family spent many summers on Grindstone when their daughters were young.
Her descriptions of the river are timeless. As I was reading, I would occasionally look out from my point on Grenell at the downriver side of Picton Island, imagining the main character, Anya, on Grindstone Island, was looking at the upriver side of Picton Island. It’s as if we were sharing the same timeless world.
The story is set during the Civil War. While the book is a work of fiction, the details of the era are accurate. I came away with a greater understanding of the Irish population that immigrated here and the 94th Regiment Infantry, comprised of young soldiers from this region.
The descriptions of the waterfront of Clayton as it was in 1864 was so loaded with sensory detail that I thought Donna had used a time machine to garner research. As it turned out, she spent hours in Corbin’s pouring over old photographs of Clayton in the 1860’s. When it was time to write, Donna would close her eyes and summon the pictures in her mind’s eye to maintain the thread and feel of the period.
To capture the language of the Irish immigrant she immersed herself in 19th century Irish poetry and prose in order to reproduce Irish syntax.
Before she began writing, Donna gathered extensive research on Confederate covert operations in Canada, the 94th Regiment, and the November 23, 1864 failed terrorist attack on New York City. “At times I was paralyzed with what I didn’t know,” Donna admits.
But the book is more than great river descriptions and historical detail, it is a great story with strong characters. When Donna started, she had envisioned a spy thriller. As she imagined who this stranger to Maple Island might have been, she latched onto the descriptions of the man being very handsome and playing the violin on calm still nights. Slowly, the story took on a more romantic tone.
Donna said her goal was to tell an honest story about who might have been the man on Maple Island. The story is told from the point of view of Anya, a young Irish immigrant left alone to fend for herself as a schoolmistress on Grindstone Island after her father dies and her twin brother enlists in the Union Army. Once Donna created the two main characters, Anya MacGregor and Jonathon Douglas (the fictionalized mystery man on Maple Island), she says, “the characters took over the story.”
This book is a must for every cottage library. It is one of those books that will be treasured by generation after generation and houseguest after houseguest. But now that I think of it, you’ll want a copy for your home library as well to read on those winter days when you are missing the island.
This is Donna’s second book. Her first book, Breaking the Ring (Little, Brown and Company) is also set in the Thousand Islands. And if we keep our fingers crossed, there might be a sequel, because Donna said, “I’m not ready to let these characters go yet.” And, I’m sure after you read Grindstone you won’t be ready to let these characters go yet either.
You can find Donna’s book at these bookstores or online at www.troubadourinteractive.com
In Canada; Leeds County Books and Coles in Brockville, Rockport's Lighthouse and in Gananoque; All About Books, Arthur Child Museum, and Gananoque Boat Lines.
In the US: in Alex Bay, Magical Swan; in Clayton; Corbins, Capt. Spicer's Gallery & the Antique Boat Museum.
Donna Inglehart will be on site to sign her books at the following locations:
Friday, August 6th, Corbin's River Heritage - Clayton, NY--2-4 p.m.
Saturday, August 7th- Leeds County Books-- Brockville, ON - 11-1
Saturday, August 7th - All About Books - Gananoque, ON- 2-4
By Lynn McElfresh
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life. She is an author herself as well as a ghost writer for several children’s books. Lynn and her family live on Grennel island and she has captured the spirit of the island in several stories over the past year. These include: