Two women murdered in Marblehead, Massachusetts, 301 years apart—one in 1690 and the other in 1991—would seem to have nothing in common, but Goodwin ties both together in her novella.
Goodwin (Atlantis, 2006) deftly toggles between both murders. The first involves an unknown English woman who was taken ashore by pirates in 1690 and savagely abused and murdered. The second occurred in 1991; a woman went for an afternoon’s sail with a neighbor who ended up killing her. In both tales, the author establishes a strong undercurrent of tension and horror, which upsets the daily activities—breadmaking in the 17th century and filmmaking in the 20th—of this normally placid coastal town. Marblehead is a palpable presence here; Goodwin infuses the book with the maritime influences of the area without turning it into a travelogue. Supernatural elements, used sparingly but effectively, occur in both storylines. In one, a character has prophetic dreams, and in the other, a woman can see into the future. Occasionally, and this is a minor quibble, Goodwin relies too heavily on dialect in the dialogue, such as: “Oooh, never will Lizzie ‘low my rise in w’ her’n, now t’is sticks n’ stones to break thy teeth on.” It makes the characters sometimes hard to understand. Usually, however, Goodwin’s prose is sharp and descriptive, invoking vivid word pictures: “Karen stepped over her, agile and light as a cat, with her long, coppery legs in frayed Patagonias.” Although it frequently switches back and forth between the narratives, the novel coheres. The result is a suspenseful book in which both stories hurtle to their tragic conclusions.
A fast-paced, multilayered story of seaside murders separated by three centuries.