Illustrates how rough justice can get when religion and institutional sexism are in the mix.

HOUR OF THE WITCH

A Puritan wife shocks her community and risks her life to file for divorce in 1662 Boston.

For more than five years, Mary, age 24, has been married to Thomas, 45, a prosperous miller. Thomas has been physically and sexually abusive, always taking care that there are no witnesses. He castigates Mary’s intelligence, telling her she has “white meat” for brains. The marriage is childless, drawing community suspicion to Mary. When she can’t hide bruises on her face, she lies about their provenance. The behavior, she tells herself, only occurs when Thomas is “drink-drunk.” The coverup continues until, cold sober, Thomas drives a fork into Mary’s hand, breaking bones. She flees to her parents’ home and files for divorce, which is allowed but only if grounds can be proven. Forks are a major motif: Not merely newfangled “cutlery” which Mary’s father, a shipping entrepreneur, hopes to profit from importing, but miniature pitchforks viewed by the Puritans as “Devil’s tines.” The forks, as well as other clues—a mysterious pestle, a pentagram etched on a door frame—are used to counter Mary’s compelling, but unwitnessed, claims of cruelty with insinuations of witchcraft. Divorce denied, Mary must return to the marital home and resort to ever more drastic expedients in her quest for freedom. Mary comes from privilege, and her parents clearly care about her. (Unlike the divorce magistrates, they don’t believe she injured her hand by falling on a tea kettle spout.) That they allow her return to Thomas to avoid witchcraft charges defies plausibility—death at Thomas’ hands seems a more immediate prospect, and her family wealth affords many other options. The charges come anyway—timed for maximum melodrama. The language, salted liberally with thee and thou, feels period-authentic. The colonists’ impact on nearby Native tribes is not Bohjalian’s primary concern here, but the Hobson’s choice facing women in Puritan society is starkly delineated.

Illustrates how rough justice can get when religion and institutional sexism are in the mix.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54243-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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