1892. A Deputy Marshal, a criminalist, a library researcher and a doctor combine their talents to search for an elusive serial killer.
The mayor of Portland, Maine, is doing his best to hide the facts of a gruesome murder. Prostitute Maggie Keene has been found dead in a machine shop. The floorboards are ripped up, a cryptic message is chalked on a wall and she is pinned to the dirt with a pitchfork through the neck, candles at her feet, missing a hand and tongue, with a cross cut into her chest. The coroner, Dr. Steig, has already sent for the man he thinks might help. Perceval Grey, half Native American, was raised and well educated by his wealthy grandfather after his father died in an apparently accidental drowning. A former Pinkerton agent, he now conducts private investigations. Deputy Marshal Lean is not sure what to expect from Grey but quickly learns his skills will be needed in this outré case. Although the scrawled message was a bad translation of the Lord’s Prayer into Abenaki, the authorities soon receive a letter assuring them the killer is not an Indian but a servant of the devil. Grey’s investigations persuade him that Maggie’s was the second death in a series that will continue unless they can find the killer. With help from Steig’s niece, Helen Prescott, a researcher at the town library, he finds a pattern that leads back to the Salem Witch Trials. More deaths will follow before the investigators can unravel what appear to be the ravings of a madman.
Both the detailed historical information and the intricate mystery hold your attention to the last page in Shields’ startling debut.