In Barry’s third Salem novel, the unsolved murders of three young women continue to roil “Witch City.”
It’s 2014, and Rose Whelan, once a prominent historian specializing in the study of the Salem witch trials, is now an addled bag lady who wanders the streets of Salem, accosting passers-by with dire predictions and obsessing about oak trees, Celtic goddesses, and an avenging spirit called a banshee. When a bad-seed teenager who threatens Rose is killed, seemingly by an unearthly shriek, the townsfolk pressure Salem Police Chief John Rafferty, a recovering alcoholic, to reopen a 25-year-old cold case, the 1989 slayings of three wannabe witches in which Rose was implicated but never charged. Rose had asked several women, descendants of accused witches hanged in 1692, to consecrate, on Halloween, the ground where the bodies of their ancestors had been dumped in a crevasse. The ceremony turned chaotic as three of the women, Olivia, Cheryl, and Susan, were murdered, by an unseen hand, to the accompaniment of a bansheelike shriek. A fourth, Leah, went missing. The only survivors were Rose and Callie, Olivia’s 5-year-old daughter, whom Rose rescued. Raised by nuns elsewhere in Massachusetts, Callie was told that Rose had died. Upon learning that she's alive, she returns to Salem to help her. Told variably from the points of view of Callie, Rafferty, and Rose, the story grows convoluted as the fortunes of two old New England rival families, the Hathornes and the Whitings, intermesh with Rose’s ravings, Callie’s clairvoyance, and Rafferty’s continuing struggle to find the truth while remaining sober. (Tip: when falling off the wagon, avoid absinthe.) Since the ultimate answers are supplied or at least confirmed by Callie’s visions and dreams, one wonders why she couldn’t have divulged these earlier, saving us all from having to turn (eagerly, it must be said) so many pages. The investigation concentrates on what proves to be a major MacGuffin, pulling focus away from the actual culprit, who is hiding in plain sight.
A flawed but entertaining occult murder mystery.