Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

In 1989, Salem was the site of a horrendous crime. It was Halloween and three women were brutally murdered, left in the same location the bodies of the accused witches were left all those centuries ago. There was a suspect, a woman found walking Salem's streets seemingly out of her mind. There was also a survivor - a little girl, the daughter of one of the victims. 

Today the crime is still unsolved. But the crime is never far from peoples' thoughts. And when the suspect in that very same case is accused of murder once again, it's all the local police chief can do to keep a woman he knows is innocent out of prison. Things are further complicated with the girl who survived, now grown, returns to town. The spitting image of her dead mother, it's only a matter of time before the real killer realizes who she is. 

Brunonia Barry's latest absolutely screams fall. Of course it should, it begins in Halloween. But the atmosphere she's built throughout the story is all cool breezes, crackling leaves, and the scent of cider!

Rose Whelan was a respected historian in Salem until that Halloween in 1989. She and three other women went down to the place the bodies were left after the Salem witch trials to consecrate the grounds. Note, it's not the final resting place. Apparently all the bodies disappeared shortly after their execution. Rose's one goal was and has been to identify the hanging tree from those very trials. A tree, not a gallows, and a location very much different from the one history says it is. But the events of that night have left her a literal shell of the woman she once was, rambling about banshees and death.

Callie remembers the night her mother was murdered, but she was just a child. She was told, in the wake of the event, that Rose had died. And so she had no reason to return to Salem at all until Rose is accused of murder once again. It's the news report of the incident that reveals the fact that Rose is still alive!

And so Callie returns to Salem. Callie has a touch of mysticism about her, so she fits right in. Especially amongst the women at Towner Whitney's tearoom. But Towner's husband, the local police chief, worries that too many people knowing Callie's true identity could be a real danger to the woman. He knows Rose Whelan is no killer, but he also knows that the fact she's been a scapegoat for so long has clearly made whoever did the killing comfortable in knowing they'll never get caught.

As Halloween turns to Thanksgiving and beyond, the town is in an uproar over Rose. Which means tensions are getting pretty high in Salem. Barry builds that suspense quietly, giving readers a chance to get to know the characters and ease into the story. There's always an underlying worry about the inevitable end of the story, but it creeps throughout rather than overwhelming the tale.

The attention to Salem history and the characters themselves is something I really appreciated in this one. And again, that atmosphere. I could almost taste the tea at Towner's tea room! It all makes for a compelling read and a great mystery, that's for sure!

If you're familiar with Barry's work, you'll see some familiar faces within the pages of her latest. Zee Finch of Map of True Places is Rose Whelan's (the accused woman) therapist and of course there's Towner Whitney of The Lace Reader. The Fifth Petal is, however, a complete stand alone. It's my understanding, too, that Barry's next book will actually take place prior to The Fifth Petal in the Salem timeline.

1 comment:

SavingsInSeconds said...

I really liked The Fifth Petal!