Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Lace Reader #2
Published by Crown on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, investigates a 25-year-old triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed one Halloween night. Aided by Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims who has returned to town, Rafferty begins to uncover a dark chapter in Salem’s past. Callie, who has always been gifted with premonitions, begins to struggle with visions she doesn’t quite understand and an attraction to a man who has unknown connections to her mother’s murder. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian and sometime-aunt to Callie, is guilty of murder or witchcraft. But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?
In spite of the blurb, The Fifth Petal doesn’t have much to do with Towner Whitney, the heroine of The Lace Reader. And that’s a good thing, because I never read The Lace Reader. Instead, this work of twisted mystery with just a touch of psychological horror is all about the old mystery of “The Goddess Murders” and the sudden rush of new clues (and red herrings) related to that old crime.
John Rafferty, the Salem Police Chief, finds himself in the thick of a very big mess that begins on Halloween in witchy Salem Massachusetts. Where once Salem hung accused witches, now the town embraces its creepy past as a way of bringing in much-needed tourist dollars.
Which doesn’t mean that the old feuds, the old resentments, and the old fears are not still bubbling just beneath the 21st century surface.
Twenty-five years ago, three young women were murdered at the site of the 17th century witch hangings. All three were young, beautiful and descended from the original witches. That grisly night left only two survivors, the child Callie Cahill, daughter of one of the victims, and Rose Whelan, a local expert on the historic witchcraft frenzy.
Callie was whisked away, but Rose stayed in town. Or at least she stayed after several months in an asylum. Even though she was never charged with the crime, everyone in town assumed that Rose was the murderer. Whatever the truth was, after the trauma she experienced and her incarceration she was never the same. She became the town madwoman, saying that the trees talked to her and other things even more bizarre.
No one bothered her, and she didn’t bother anyone, until that Halloween, when a bunch of young, privileged idiots decided that threatening her with a knife would be a terrific Halloween prank. When one of them dropped dead in the middle of the confrontation, everyone assumed that old Rose had managed to kill him exactly the same way she killed those young women all those years ago. And the town began a modern day witch hunt, complete with anonymous tweets and Facebook posts, baying for her blood.
All of the hoopla over the latest incident reaches the regional papers, and little Callie Cahill, now an adult, discovers that her caregivers lied to her long ago, and that Rose is very much alive. She drops everything to rush to Salem, in the hopes of saving Rose just as she believed Rose saved her all those years ago.
And all the buried secrets of the past burst wide open. While the town whips up witch hunting frenzy, John Rafferty re-opens the old case. He wasn’t in Salem back them, but he doesn’t believe Rose is guilty, either then or now. There was no evidence back then, and there isn’t any now either. But his investigation brings that long-ago crime back to everyone’s mind. If Rose wasn’t the murderer, then someone else was. Covering up those old murders is an unfortunately excellent motivation for another killing spree. This time with a whole new set of supposed wrongs to be set right, and a whole new cast of victims.
In the end, Rafferty discovers that the old wounds and the old wrongs have sunk deep and poisonous roots in much too fertile ground. Almost too late.
Escape Rating B+: Although the story itself is more a mystery than anything else, there is a creepy overtone of horror and evil that gave me the shivers. And looking back, a lot of that evil has nothing to do with witchcraft or devil worship or anything more obviously sinister. Instead, it is all related to an everyday kind of evil.
Whatever happened to their ancestors in the 1600s, in the 2010s there’s another kind of witch hunt going on in Salem. Everyone wants to believe that Rose is the killer, both in the past and in the present. And it becomes clear that she is being victimized for exactly the same reasons that the women accused of witchcraft were victimized in the 1600s. She’s an older woman, and she’s weird. And possibly mentally ill. That’s all it took in the 1600s to bring out the accusers, and that’s all it seems to take in 2014-2015.
Today’s witch hunt is just more sophisticated. It uses the internet. But it is equally persecution, and just like the victims in the 1600s, Rose is equally innocent. And it doesn’t matter. She is different, and that makes people more than willing to throw her under that metaphorical bus.
Rafferty finds himself investigating two crimes, and neither is the recent death. That young man died of an overdose, and except for his mother, no one is going to miss him. But the more Rafferty looks, the more he thinks that his predecessor completely screwed up the case. The former police chief wanted Rose to be guilty, and the truth didn’t matter. Or possibly mattered too much.
Rafferty wants Rose to be innocent, so he keeps digging. Meanwhile, all the forces in town seem to be colluding to make his job more difficult. Someone clearly has a secret that they still feel the need to keep at all costs.
In the end, the motives for all the deaths are the oldest of all, greed and jealousy. And as is so often the case, the killer is exposed by overreaching. If they’d left well enough alone, they could have remained hidden. But of course they didn’t and they don’t. The reveal is appropriately chilling and does a wonderful job of wrapping up all the loose and trailing ends, no matter how far back they began. Or how creepy they remain.
~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
I am giving away a copy of The Fifth Petal to one lucky US commenter.