Historical cloak-and-dagger with only a quiet spark.

THE QUEEN OF WASHINGTON

This exhaustively researched historical fiction examines Civil War–era spies and geopolitics.

Hamit’s (Shenandoah Spy, 2008) second novel focuses on the life and career of Mrs. Rose Greenhow, a rich 19th-century widow whose services as a spy may have gone beyond her years of work for the Confederacy—she may have also been in the pay of British and French intelligence. The story provides impressive period atmosphere and painstakingly researched details of Greenhow’s life in the 1850s and ’60s, as she exerts an invisible influence over the Mexican War and then builds a mostly female spy ring for the South. Some consideration is given to her marriage and personal life, though it’s generally overshadowed by the larger business to which she’s dedicated. Hamit steers clear of larger-than-life historical figures in his invention, making better use of famed detective/spy Allan Pinkerton and his agency. This is fitting, as the book maintains a sense of grave seriousness and devotion to truth, which the random appearances of colorful characters would diminish. Even the opening pages include a grim prison photograph of the real Mrs. Greenhow and her young daughter, cementing the truth-in-fiction tone. Along with the author’s first novel, the story of Rose Greenhow is meant to be part of a massive “super-novel” that will amount to a broad portrait of the era. The text’s conclusion accounts for the arrangement, but it’s also distracting. There’s a sense that this is only a chapter taken out of another story, as if some of the super-novel’s energy is held in reserve for other volumes. The skulduggery is scrupulously realistic, yet as a result, it can sometimes lack verve. Poetic license is exercised but always with the greatest economy.

Historical cloak-and-dagger with only a quiet spark.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-1595951717

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Brass Cannon Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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