Based on the real-life disappearance of Bertha Mellish from Mount Holyoke University in 1897, KILLINGLY is a meticulously researched and perfectly executed gothic mystery that offers a glimpse into the disappearance and search for this young woman. Katharine Beutner depicts the true characters and occasionally bizarre facts that surrounded one young woman’s life, going so far as to use excerpts from real letters written by students sharing the puzzling and frightening news of her disappearance with their families and friends. Even as a fictional account of events which introduces fictional characters to the narrative the story itself rings true, and we are allowed to see how little and how much has changed in 125 years. Full of the depth of friendship, family dysfunction, queer love, and the issues faced by women throughout history, KILLINGLY is just absolutely stunning.— Amy
June 2023 Indie Next List
“From the very first page, there’s this amazing creepy vibe that envelops the reader. Katharine Beutner has written a stunning historical mystery, based on a true missing person case. Killingly hits all the high notes!”
— Jayne Rowsam, Mystery to Me, Madison, WI
Based on the unsolved real-life disappearance of a Mount Holyoke student in 1897—a haunting novel of intrigue, longing, and terror, perfect for fans of Donna Tartt and Sarah Waters
Massachusetts, 1897: Bertha Mellish, “the most peculiar, quiet, reserved girl” at Mount Holyoke College, is missing.
As a search team dredges the pond where Bertha might have drowned, her panicked father and sister arrive desperate to find some clue to her fate or state of mind. Bertha’s best friend, Agnes, a scholarly loner studying medicine, might know the truth, but she is being unhelpfully tightlipped, inciting the suspicions of Bertha’s family, her classmates, and the private investigator hired by the Mellish family doctor. As secrets from Agnes’s and Bertha’s lives come to light, so do the competing agendas driving each person who is searching for Bertha.
Where did Bertha go? Who would want to hurt her? And could she still be alive?
Edmund White Award–winning author Katharine Beutner takes a real-life unsolved mystery and crafts it into an unforgettable historical portrait of academia, family trauma, and the risks faced by women who dared to pursue unconventional paths at the end of the 19th century.
About the Author
Katharine Beutner is an assistant professor of English at the College of Wooster in Ohio; previously, she taught at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. She earned a BA in Classical Studies at Smith College and an MA in English (creative writing) and a PhD in English literature at the University of Texas at Austin. Her first novel, Alcestis, won the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and was a finalist for other awards, including the Lambda Literary Association’s Lesbian Debut Fiction Award. Her writing has appeared in Tinfish, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Public Books, The Toast, TriQuarterly, Humanities, and other publications. Recently, she received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. She is the editor in chief of The Dodge, a magazine of eco-writing and translation.
Praise for Killingly
An Amazon Best Book of the Month - Mystery/Thriller
An Apple Best Book of the Month
CrimeReads Most Anticipated Crime Fiction of Summer 2023
An ABA Indie Next Pick for June 2023
“Beutner uses [Bertha Melish's] disappearance as a wider set-piece to investigate the nature of those who stand apart from the crowd, and are punished for their independence.”
“Killingly moves deliberately, achingly, through one young woman’s disappearance in 1897. Out of the real-life facts of the case, Katharine Beutner makes extraordinary fiction, pushing against the limits of her characters’ situations and propelling us to the heights of their ambitions. Beutner’s novel is able to discover an answer to Bertha Mellish’s mystery. Now, more than ever, we need to know the truth this story reveals.”
—Julia Phillips, author of National Book Award Finalist Disappearing Earth
“Katharine Beutner has spun a lost scrap of history into a campus mystery novel set in the late 1800s, when an elite women’s college is consumed by the search for a missing student. Gossip and clues to her whereabouts—or her death—fester with accusation and suspicion. In their longing to find the beloved young woman, her best friend Agnes and her older sister Florence must each grapple with their own dangerous secrets. A story of women who defy strict rules, Killingly is a gripping novel of intrigue and surprising twists.”
—Kate Manning, author of My Notorious Life
“This is a superb novel, suffused with dread, riddled with covert motivations and desires, reckoning with painful secrets, artfully rendering the myriad facets of this mysterious case while bearing witness to the sacrifices many women have made to live—and die—authentically.”
—Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Dog of the North and The Portable Veblen
“SARAH WATERS AND DONNA TARTT SQUAD, BUCKLE UP: Killingly, the latest from Katharine Beutner, is hitting the Plain Bad Heroines place in my heart again.”
—WAMC The Roundtable
Praise for Katharine Beutner
Winner of the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award for Alcestis
Finalist for Lambda Literary Association’s Debut Lesbian Fiction Award for Alcestis
Winner of Ohio Arts Council’s Individual Excellence Award