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Dead Letters from Paradise

April 1960.

Gunsmoke is the most popular show on TV. Elvis Presley tops the Billboard charts. A charismatic young senator named John F. Kennedy is running for president. And, in North Carolina, four young Black men sit down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and demand service. Enter Esther Jane (EJ) Cloud, a forty-something spinster who manages the Dead Letter Office at the Winston-Salem post office. EJ leads a quiet life in her Old Salem ancestral home and spends her free time volunteering in the town’s 18th-century hortus medicus.

One sunny Spring morning, EJ’s simple life is turned upside down when the town’s master gardener unceremoniously hands her a packet of handwritten letters that have all been addressed to a nonexistent person at the garden and expects EJ to “tend to them.” This simple act sets in motion a chain of events that will lead EJ on a life-altering quest to uncover the identity of the mysterious letter writer—and into a surprising head-on confrontation with the harsh realities of the racial injustice that is as deeply rooted in the life of her community as the ancient herbs cultivated in the Moravian garden.

When EJ is forced to read the letters to look for clues about the anonymous sender, what she discovers are lyrical tales of a forbidden passion that threaten to unravel the simple contours of her unexamined life. EJ’s official quest soon morphs into a journey of self-discovery as she becomes more deeply enmeshed in the fate of the mysterious letter writer, “Dorothea.” Her surprising accomplice in solving the mystery of the letters becomes one, Harrie Hart: a savvy, street smart ten-year-old, wielding an eye patch and a limitless supply of aphorisms. Together, Harrie and EJ make seminal pilgrimages to the tiny town of Paradise to try and uncover the identity of the mercurial sender and, ultimately, learn a better way to navigate the changing world around them.

Dead Letters from Paradise will be available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats.



Praise for Dead Letters From Paradise:

“From one of our best—a blend of literary mystery and history in a pitch-perfect evocation of a pivotal year of growth in our nation. Featuring a solitary woman and the new, sassy, ten-year-old neighbor who opens the world to her, this tender, humane story illuminates the nature of discovery and courage.” —Katherine V. Forrest, author of Curious Wine and the Kate Delafield Mystery Series

“If you’re looking for hardcore bullets, booze, bodies, blonds, and blood—this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re after a beautifully crafted story, one that blends elements of mystery, history, and romance, I guarantee this clever, intelligent and surprisingly gentle novel will not disappoint.” —Ellen Hart, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master

“Within the construct of a fascinating mystery, Ann McMan asks important questions and unflinchingly implores us to explore our own ideas about who we are, where we come from, and the assumptions we make. Rich language, characters to root for, and a precocious ten-year-old from whom we could all learn a great deal. Brava!” —Lynn Ames, award-winning author of Secrets Well Kept

Dead Letters from Paradise is a brilliantly wrought, multi-layered work made sweet and tender by an emerging community of loving and lovable characters. The richness of Ann McMan’s achievement has seldom been equaled in contemporary lesbian literature.” —Lee Lynch, trailblazing author of The Swashbuckler

“Ann McMan never ceases to amaze me. Her talent seems to know no bounds. She writes from a place that always seems to capture her readers interest and imagination. Her literary genius is matched by few in the LGBTQ writing community. She is a storyteller that I hope is never without a story to tell.” —Women Using Words

“McMan’s style is reminiscent of Erle Stanley Gardner’s writing: sparingly descriptive, liberal with dialogue, and sprinkled with dry humor.” —Southern Review of Books 

“If you only have time for one book for the rest of the summer, Dead Letters from Paradise by Ann McMan is the one to choose—you can’t go wrong with this novel.” —Brad Shreve, Queer Writers of Crime

“Ann McMan is queer fiction royalty.” —CrimeReads

“There is so much I could say about this book that it’s hard to know where to begin. There is the eloquence of the language and dialogue, the realistic characters and their stories, and the gentle way the author incorporates the fictional tale into the real-life drama of this time period. Dead Letters From Paradise has my absolute highest recommendation. You do not want to miss this one.” —Betty Harmon, Rainbow Reflections


Publication Date: June 28, 2022, by Bywater Book

Distributed to the trade by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution

Available from your local retailer, online and independent booksellers

Dead Letters from Paradise is also available in the following formats: paperback, eBook, and audiobook via Audible.com and Amazon.com