The approaching 300th anniversary (in 1992) of the Salem witchcraft trials is occasion for this new foray into that ugly era in Colonial American history. But, unfortunately, this fictionalized account proves to be just as neurotic as the ""possessed maidens of Salem Village""--sometimes as purple and overblown as any Cotton Mather sermon, at other times as brittle as a TV docudrama. Elliott begins with a seemingly endless conversation between Cotton, pastor of Boston's North Church, and his father, Increase, who urges his son to use caution in siding with the witch-hunters. Another cleric, Reverend George Burroughs--along with many others--has been convicted of consorting with the Devil and is about to be hanged. The trouble began some three years earlier, when a new minister named Parris assumed the difficult post in Salem, a village torn by feuding and litigation. Reverend Parris' Barbadian slave, Tituba, keeps Salem girls like Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam amused by reading palms; soon the sweet young things are seeing visions, falling on the floor, naming names of those in the parish who've tried to recruit them to do the Devil's work. Eventually, some 25 good New Englanders are put behind bars, and only after Governor William Phips returns from the French and Indian Wars, horrified at what's been going on, does the turmoil begin to die down--though Cotton Mather will continue to find witchery behind every fence post. It's all in the history books, of course. Meanwhile, those who want to mark the tricentennial would do better by looking back at Arthur Miller's terse classic, The Crucible.