God in Concord

The infusing spirit of GOD IN CONCORD is that of Henry David Thoreau, who preached of a good and simple life and the importance and beauty of the natural world. Epigraphs from Thoreau head each chapter, highlighting by contrast the myriad problems faced by modern urban communities.

The cast of characters is large, since nearly everyone is involved in the question of rezoning Concord’s central district—including the area near Walden Pond. Should Concord exchange historic preservation for commerce? Multimillionaire Jefferson Grandison issues orders from his seventy-story office building in Boston, and his legman Jack Markey makes deals with Concord officials. Ambitious Mimi Pink wants to expand her boutiques.

Other characters passionately object. Eccentric Oliver Fry quotes Thoreau to show why nature preserves must be saved. Ananda Singh, a young man from India, opposes his wealthy father to make a pilgrimage to what he considers the sacred ground of Thoreau.

Even those who do not publicly debate the issue become major players, especially a group of homeless people who install themselves in a swanky house when the owners leave for vacation. And, most ominously, the residents of Pond View trailer park, who have been promised their property for their lifetimes, are quickly dying off, and it becomes clear that someone will do anything to get the land.

Professor Kelly and his wife Mary have less to do with solving the murders than in some of the previous entries in the series, but Langton’s wry humor continues with sometimes strokes of broad comedy, such as the solution she gives to the disposal of the garbage from “Lot 17.” Langton also contributed the several half-page pen-and-ink illustrations.