Day 1029: The Fifth Petal

Cover for The Fifth PetalFans of Brunonia Barry will be happy to hear her novel is out. Like the others, this one is set in the vivid backdrop of Salem, Massachusetts, and features some familiar characters. It also harks back to the Salem Witch Trials. Although some of the characters appeared in her previous novels, it reads perfectly well as a stand-alone.

When Callie Cahill was five years old, her mother and two other young women were viciously murdered on Halloween. They had been performing a memorial ceremony for five of the women hanged during the Salem witch trials, to whom they were related. One woman who was supposed to attend the ceremony was missing.

Callie was present at the time, as was Rose Whelan, a noted historian who helped the young women research their ancestry and took them in. Rose saved Callie by hiding her, and when she was found the next morning, she had gripped her rosary so hard that she had a rose-shaped scar on her palm.

Callie was told by the nuns who raised her that Rose died, but when she learns Rose is alive, she returns to Salem. Rose has been mentally ill since the event, and she sometimes sleeps under the oak in Rafferty and Towner’s yard.

Rafferty was not in Salem at the time of the murders, but Rose has committed a crime, Salem thinks, and that awakens an interest in the old case. Rose was accosted by three boys, one of whom held a knife to her throat. Rose told the police after the original murders that they were committed by a banshee and she had taken the banshee inside herself. According to her, when the boy was threatening her, she let the banshee out. She shrieked, and the boy died.

Rafferty returns to the old murders to find clues, but evidence is missing. He thinks that finding the fourth woman related to the original witches will help him solve the case. Assuming that each woman, including Rose, makes a petal in the five-petal rose Rose was using as a symbol, he calls this woman the fifth petal. But she has vanished.

link to NetgalleyCallie’s memories of that night are returning, but they are patchy. And she has met an attractive man in Paul Whiting, the son of a wealthy family.

This Barry novel stands up well to the others, although The Lace Reader is still my favorite. Callie is an interesting heroine, and the mystery is a difficult one. It is nice to see more of Rafferty and Towner, as well as Zee, from The Map of True Places. The novel wrapped in the history of Salem quite nicely, and the town provides an atmospheric setting.

Related Posts

The Lace Reader

The Map of True Places

The Witches: Salem, 1692

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Day 148: The Map of True Places

Cover for The Map of True PlacesThe Map of True Places is another very good book by Brunonia Barry. Zee is a psychotherapist with a shattering past. The death of her patient Lilly, a bipolar housewife who jumped off a bridge, has brought back to Zee memories of her own mother’s suicide. Her father Finch was unfaithful to her bipolar mother with another man, and when Zee was 11, her mother committed suicide by swallowing strychnine. Zee came home in time to witness the fatal convulsions.

Zee goes to visit her father and finds that his Parkinson’s disease has turned to dementia and he has kicked his partner Melville out of the house. She decides to take a leave of absence from her practice to care for Finch. Trying to come to terms with the past and figure out what to do with Finch, she begins to doubt everything in her life. As she finds out the truth about many of the myths in her life, Zee also finds clues about what happened to Lilly in her final days.

This second book of Barry’s is also set in Salem, Massachusetts, and features some of the same characters as in The Lace Reader. I have really enjoyed both of Barry’s books. She creates a strong sense of place in the quirky Salem and populates her novels with complex, interesting characters.

Day 68: The Lace Reader

Cover for The Lace ReaderFrom the very beginning of The Lace Reader, the main character tells us she is a liar. The first time I read this book, I paid attention to that comment, but I could not detect any lies and eventually I forgot about that statement. As it turns out, Towner is not really lying, but Brunonia Barry’s novel is an outstanding example of the use of an unreliable narrator, and a haunting story.

Towner Whitney has not been home to Salem, Massachusetts, for 17 years, ever since her twin sister Lyndley committed suicide and she herself had a breakdown and was institutionalized. Now her brother calls asking her to return home because her great-aunt Eva has disappeared.

Towner’s female relatives are all unusual. She comes from a family of lace readers–people who can read the future in a piece of lace–and although she refuses to read, she is clairvoyant and can read people’s minds. These abilities, which she rejects, make her feel unstable, especially since she has gaps in her memory from electro-shock therapy. Towner’s mother May never leaves the island where she harbors abused women and teaches them how to make lace, and her aunt Emma has brain damage from a history of abuse by her husband Cal.

In Salem again, Towner waits for news of Eva. She learns that one of the police officers, Rafferty, is sure that Cal had something to do with Eva’s disappearance as he has been threatening her and other members of her family.

Salem itself is almost a character with its witch-based tourist industry, and now Cal has formed a group of religious cultists who call themselves Calvinists and who taunt the witches and threaten them with damnation. It’s a bad place for Towner to be, and she is just deciding to leave again when Eva’s body turns up.

The Lace Reader is a wonderful book, layered with secrets, an exploration in the difference between perception and reality. With an atmospheric setting, characters to care about, and a compelling plot, the book is a real page-turner. The last few paragraphs made me re-evaluate everything I had read.