Two hundred years after the Salem witch trials, in the summer of 1892, a grisly new witch hunt is beginning.... When newly appointed Deputy Marshal Archie Lean is called in to investigate a prostitute's murder in Portland, Maine, he's surprised to find the body laid out like a pentagram and pinned to the earth with a pitchfork. He's even more surprised to learn that this death by "sticking" is a traditional method of killing a witch. Baffled by the ritualized murder scene, Lean secretly enlists the help of historian Helen Prescott and brilliant criminalist Perceval Grey. Distrusted by officials because of his mixed Abenaki Indian ancestry, Grey is even more notorious for combining modern investigative techniques with an almost eerie perceptiveness. Although skeptical of each other's methods, together the detectives pursue the killer's trail through postmortems and opium dens, into the spiritualist societies and lunatic asylums of gothic New England. Before the killer closes in on his final victim, Lean and Grey must decipher the secret pattern to these murders--a pattern hidden within the dark history of the Salem witch trials.
Set in 1892 in Portland, Maine, Shields's stellar first novel plays ingenious variations on both the Holmesian omnipotent sleuth and the serial killer theme. The discovery of a ritually slaughtered young woman in a machine shop presents Deputy Marshal Archie Lean with a case way outside his experience. Someone stuck a pitchfork through Maggie Keene's neck, cut off her right hand, and arranged her half-naked body in the form of a pentagram. Chalked on the side of a nearby gear is a string of letters that could be some sort of code. Lean turns for help to Perceval Grey, a part-Indian Pinkerton agent known for his unorthodox scientific methods. In short order, Grey identifies the chalked message's language as that of the Abenaki tribe and, alarmingly, deduces that Keene is her killer's second victim. Lean and Grey must overcome local prejudices inflamed by the crime, even as the murderer toys with the authorities by sending threatening letters. Meanwhile, clues emerge that the slayings may relate to the bicentennial of the Salem witchcraft trials. Strong characters and a nicely convoluted, intelligent plot bode well for any sequel. Agents: Suzanne Gluck and Erin Malone, William Morris. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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March 27, 2012
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