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The Fifth Petal

The Fifth Petal

4.4 16
by Brunonia Barry

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Beloved author Brunonia Barry returns to the world of THE LACE READER with this spellbinding new thriller, a complex brew of suspense, seduction and murder.

When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night, Salem's chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, wonders if there is a connection between his death and


Beloved author Brunonia Barry returns to the world of THE LACE READER with this spellbinding new thriller, a complex brew of suspense, seduction and murder.

When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night, Salem's chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, wonders if there is a connection between his death and Salem’s most notorious cold case, a triple homicide dubbed "The Goddess Murders," in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed on Halloween night in 1989. He finds unexpected help in Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims newly returned to town. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian, 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?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bestselling author Barry (The Lace Reader) brings readers into the historic town of Salem, Mass., where the parallels between a past crime and the present-day death of a teenage boy at the hanging site of the Salem witches seem all too familiar to the suspicious community. Rose, a once-respected Salem witch-trial historian and scholar who was the primary suspect in the unsolved Goddess murders, which rocked the town nearly 20 years ago, has never been the same after the humiliation of the investigation. Now a mentally unstable outcast, Rose is again the target of public scrutiny concerning the murder of the troubled teen. The chief of police, Rafferty, and Callie, Rose’s niece and daughter of one of the murdered women, aren’t convinced of Rose’s guilt. Whisked away from Salem under the care of nuns after the death of her mother, Callie was the sole witness to the Goddess murders and has been sheltered from much of her family history—until news of the murdered boy brings her again to Salem and memories begin flooding back during waking dreams. By reopening the Goddess-murder cases and relying on the power of modern magic, mythology, and history, Callie and Rafferty seek to uncover the true murderer. Dark and suspenseful, Barry’s well-constructed tale is filled with traps and red herrings as the truth is slowly revealed and Salem is forced to confront its sordid past. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Advance Praise for The Fifth Petal:

“Dark and suspenseful, Barry’s well-constructed tale is filled with traps and red herrings as the truth is slowly revealed and Salem is forced to confront its sordid past.”
Publishers Weekly

“Barry fans will welcome the return of beloved characters and the introduction of new ones into a contemporary Salem appropriately fraught with remnants and reminders of its dark and twisted history. This spooky, multilayered medley of mysteries is sure to be a bestseller.”
Booklist (starred review)

"In contemporary Salem, a murder has taken place, with roots that reach back to the seventeenth-century witch trials. Filled with twists and turns, as well as ancient tradition and modern mystery, Barry’s story has deft pacing, a marvelous sense of place, and a quirky cast of characters. The Fifth Petal is another haunting tale by the author of The Lace Reader where past and present collide."  
— DEBORAH HARKNESS, New York Times bestselling author of the All Souls trilogy
“Brunonia Barry’s Salem is alive with rich history, and with a unique and colorful cast of characters: witches and healers, lace readers, the well-to-do and the down-and-out.  And everyone’s got secrets.  The Fifth Petal is a mesmerizing take on the ways the past affects and influences the present.  “Time isn’t linear,” says one of the characters, and the way Barry artfully weaves together a modern-day crime, a twenty-five-year-old murder case, and the Salem witch trials, you’ll close the book believing that she’s absolutely right.”   
— JENNIFER MCMAHON, New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People and The Night Sister

"Dark and suspenseful, Barry’s well-constructed tale is filled with traps and red herrings as the truth is slowly revealed and Salem is forced to confront its sordid past.”
—Publishers Weekly
“Banshees, lost memories, and secret pasts each play a significant role in this novel; enthusiasts of the author’s earlier work and readers interested in the history of witchcraft and the occult will enjoy this return visit to Salem.”
Library Journal
“[An] entertaining occult murder mystery.”
Kirkus Reviews

"There is true magic in The Fifth Petal, where Salem’s dark history of murder threatens to destroy yet one more young woman, a descendant of one of the accused witches.  As in The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry weaves together ancient myths, modern mysteries and the power and wisdom of a cabal of fearless women who’ve been touched by the invisible world."  
— KATHLEEN KENT, author of The Heretic’s Daughter

"Brunonia Barry has done it again. If you liked The Lace Reader, you’re going to love her new novel, The Fifth Petal. A real page-turner about murder and prejudice and love and what’s possible and what isn’t. Enjoy."
 B.A. SHAPIRO, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger and The Muralist

"A seductive combination of suspense, history, myth - with a sprinkling of the supernatural - The Fifth Petal is an enormously satisfying mystery novel.  Brunonia Barry has created a world that is at once inviting and menacing, populated by characters both warmly familiar and surprising."
— ANDREW PYPER, author of The Damned and The Demonologist
"There are many writers who write wonderful books... then there are those rare writers who make magic. Brunonia Barry proves once again she is a sorcerer. Transported to Salem, I was lost in a Gothic tale that only the author of The Lace Reader could have conjured."
— M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Language of Stones

"Written with pens dipped in magic and chills, THE FIFTH PETAL uncovers hidden corners where myth, malevolence, and fervor converge in Salem, Massachusetts. Tendrils from the past and present wrap the complicated characters—and the reader’s attention—until the stunning final sentence. Brunonia Barry weaves miracles."
— RANDY SUSAN MEYERS, bestselling author of The Murderer’s Daughters

"The Fifth Petal is a brilliant and suspenseful tale that prods at embers still live in a buried past. By weaving together the lost evidence of two Salem tragedies, Brunonia Barry’s novel prompts profound consideration of the respect for history, the importance of resolution, and the power of voice. Highly recommended."
— THERESE WALSH, author of The Moon Sisters 

"Spellbinding! Clear your schedule—this beautifully written and seamlessly researched tale is a thriller, a romance, and a deeply felt investigation of the witch frenzy that haunts us to this day—and it's the book everyone will be buzzing about. Surprising, compelling and profound—even revelatory—it will stay with you long after the last page."      
— HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN, Agatha, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark award winning author

Library Journal
While a few quibbling questions may bedevil fans of Barry's The Lace Reader, the many suspenseful, intriguing events presented in this sort-of-sequel are sure to haunt them. The suspicious death of a teenager on Halloween leads Salem, MA, chief of police John Rafferty, who is married to lace reader Towner Whitney, to wonder if this could be related to the town's most notorious cold case involving a triple homicide. Troubled Callie Cahill is the daughter of one of the victims in the 1989 crime but doesn't believe that wildly eccentric local historian Rose is capable of committing the latest killing. Could both incidents be linked to the notorious witch hunts of 1692? Barry paints an authentic portrait of both contemporary and historic Salem, yet the story really comes alive when the village is left behind and two characters take off to visit the mysterious tufo (limestone) caves of Italy. VERDICT Banshees, lost memories, and secret pasts each play a significant role in this novel; enthusiasts of the author's earlier work and readers interested in the history of witchcraft and the occult will enjoy this return visit to Salem. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/16.]—Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA
Kirkus Reviews
In Barry's third Salem novel, the unsolved murders of three young women continue to roil "Witch City."It's 2014, and Rose Whelan, once a prominent historian specializing in the study of the Salem witch trials, is now an addled bag lady who wanders the streets of Salem, accosting passers-by with dire predictions and obsessing about oak trees, Celtic goddesses, and an avenging spirit called a banshee. When a bad-seed teenager who threatens Rose is killed, seemingly by an unearthly shriek, the townsfolk pressure Salem Police Chief John Rafferty, a recovering alcoholic, to reopen a 25-year-old cold case, the 1989 slayings of three wannabe witches in which Rose was implicated but never charged. Rose had asked several women, descendants of accused witches hanged in 1692, to consecrate, on Halloween, the ground where the bodies of their ancestors had been dumped in a crevasse. The ceremony turned chaotic as three of the women, Olivia, Cheryl, and Susan, were murdered, by an unseen hand, to the accompaniment of a bansheelike shriek. A fourth, Leah, went missing. The only survivors were Rose and Callie, Olivia's 5-year-old daughter, whom Rose rescued. Raised by nuns elsewhere in Massachusetts, Callie was told that Rose had died. Upon learning that she's alive, she returns to Salem to help her. Told variably from the points of view of Callie, Rafferty, and Rose, the story grows convoluted as the fortunes of two old New England rival families, the Hathornes and the Whitings, intermesh with Rose's ravings, Callie's clairvoyance, and Rafferty's continuing struggle to find the truth while remaining sober. (Tip: when falling off the wagon, avoid absinthe.) Since the ultimate answers are supplied or at least confirmed by Callie's visions and dreams, one wonders why she couldn't have divulged these earlier, saving us all from having to turn (eagerly, it must be said) so many pages. The investigation concentrates on what proves to be a major MacGuffin, pulling focus away from the actual culprit, who is hiding in plain sight. A flawed but entertaining occult murder mystery.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One

October 31, 2014


There were no witches in Salem in 1692, but they thrive here in great numbers now.

—­Rose Whelan, The Witches of Salem

Rafferty had never seen so many trick-­or-­treaters on Chestnut Street. Nor had he ever been charged with escorting such a large Witches’ March up to Gallows Hill. There were at least 150 of them this year—­Wiccans, Druids, Celts, nature mama hippies with psychic tendencies, pantheists and polytheists all—­walking slowly behind his 1980 Crown Vic cruiser, the one he’d rescued from the junk pile. For safety reasons, several streets had been blocked off. Traffic was already backed up onto Highland Avenue as visitors streamed into town for the festivities.

He’d been living in Salem for almost twenty years now. Back in the nineties only summer and early fall were filled with tourists; by midsummer you couldn’t find a parking space anywhere downtown, which was a pain in the ass. But come November 1, you could park anywhere you wanted. Not so anymore. This was no longer a forgotten seaport. No longer an aging industrial city. Salem had been discovered, and not just as a tourist destination but as the new hot place to live. These days, you were lucky to get a parking space in town at any time of year, which is why Rafferty always drove the cruiser, even on his day off. As chief of police, he could double-­park anywhere. More often than not, a tourist would ask him to pose next to the cruiser so they could capture its Witch City logo: a police badge emblazoned with a flying witch on a broomstick wearing a pointed hat.

But all that was nothing compared to what happened here in October. The city had been dubbed the Halloween Capital of the World. That was no big surprise. But no one had expected it could turn into a monthlong celebration. Lately, it was even more than a month, which was great for the merchants: The population grew by at least 300,000 each October. Every year Salem imported extra police from Boston and Lynn and as far away as Connecticut, and each year they were still shorthanded.

The crowds tonight were something. Even here, in this residential neighborhood, the trick-­or-­treaters were waiting in long lines for their candy at the Federal mansions that were decorated for the occasion.

Rafferty drove the wrong way up Chestnut Street to the corner of Flint.

“Hey, Rafferty,” yelled a man dressed as a pirate and known locally as Worms, “write yourself a ticket. This is a one-­way street!”

Each year the pirate reenactors gathered at the Phillips House museum, the only historic home open to the public on Chestnut Street, to sing to the children, and maybe scare them a little, too.

“Scallywag!” his companion, Mickey Doherty, growled.

“Argh!” Rafferty shouted back at them.

“Them’s fighting words, John,” Mickey said, taking it as an invitation to approach the cruiser.

“Argh is only one word, Mickey,” Rafferty said. Mickey Doherty was more entrepreneurial than almost anyone in town. He owned two haunted houses on Derby Street and the pirate shop on the wharf, where he sold a bit of weed on the side. Since possession was a mis­demeanor these days, and Mickey didn’t sell to kids, Rafferty looked the other way. “And if you don’t know that, you should lay off the Dark ’n Stormies. Isn’t this a kids’ party?”

Mickey laughed and pounded the cruiser with his fist. “This kind of fortification’s the only way I can stand the little demons!”

Rafferty shook his head.

“Hey, what’re the streets like?” Mickey wanted to know. “I spoke to Ann earlier, and she warned me. There’s a weird energy tonight.”

Ann Chase. Salem’s most famous present-­day witch. “Well, if anyone should know . . .” Rafferty said, and Mickey laughed. “Actually, it seems pretty tame to me,” Rafferty said. It was true.

Fall had come late this year, but now the air was chilling, and the darkness felt pervasive. He nodded to Mickey, turned on his siren, and pulled out, blocking incoming cars on Essex Street, so the parade could cross the road. As the candlelight vigil moved on, a driver blasted his horn, and others joined in chorus to protest the delay. The witches walked in formation, as slowly as brides.

Once the last witch had crossed the road on the way up to Gallows Hill Park, Rafferty’s escort duties were over. He circled the city, checking on the rental cops and mounted police. A weird energy. He noticed that the Choate memorial statue at the corner of Essex and Boston Streets sported toilet paper streamers—­nothing new or particularly weird there. Costumed children roamed more freely here, mostly without their parents: the little ones sugared up and bouncing, the older kids just looking for trouble. He spotted a few teens hanging out in the parking lot of an auto body shop on Boston Street. They scattered when they saw him coming—­probably a drug deal. There’d been a lot of that lately in this area. He hoped the new senior center they were going to build here would turn the neighborhood around. That lot had been vacant too long.

He U-­turned into the parking lot of the Dairy Witch and came back around when he got the call that there was some kind of disturbance in the Walgreens parking lot a few doors down. “I’ve got it,” he said, thinking it was probably the same kids. But as he pulled into the lot, the kids were nowhere to be seen. He drove around back and spotted the hearse parked at the side of Proctor’s Ledge. Hearse tours were big business in Salem; featured venues included everything from haunted houses to the apartment building over on Lafayette Street where the Boston Strangler had killed his only North Shore victim back in the early sixties. Salem entrepreneurs would go to any length to frighten the tourists, especially on Halloween, though the ghostly Fright Tours logo hand-­painted on the side of the hearse looked far more like Casper than Jacob Marley.

Unless the neighbors had a legitimate complaint, the police did little to discourage the fright tours or anything that made a dollar for the people who relied on Halloween to make a living. But this wasn’t public property, it was private, and the manager of Walgreens as well as the neighbors up the hill resented the invasion of tourists. Especially lately, as the site of 1989’s still-­unsolved murders had become Salem’s most popular tour.

He could see the candles from here. He recognized the voice of a local talent, someone they’d nicknamed Actor Bob, who’d made enough money with a voice-­over commercial selling burials at sea to buy himself the old hearse and outfit it with cushy cutaway coffin seats lined with satin. Tonight, Actor Bob’s baritone was far less comforting than his oceanic funereal voice. Tonight his voice was raspy, haunted.

“And now we come to Proctor’s Ledge. Though some will tell you otherwise, many believe this place, not Gallows Hill, is where Salem executed nineteen accused witches back in 1692. This is also the place where, back on Halloween in 1989, three beautiful young women were brutally murdered: Olivia Cahill, Cheryl Cassella, and Susan Symms, whose ghostly white hair and skin were cut from her body to be used for some kind of Satanic ritual.”

The crowd murmured, shocked.

Rafferty had heard Actor Bob lead the tour on several occasions. He always played to the crowd, changing and embellishing the story for effect, but this last part had been added recently—­and embellished beyond belief.

“Remember their names. And remember the nickname the townspeople gave them. These young women were so beautiful and so bewitching, everyone called them the Goddesses.”

More murmurs from the crowd.

“Neighbors on Boston Street and along the North River could hear their screams that night, but no one called for help until the next morning. It was as if a spell had been cast across the entire city of Salem, and no one could break it. For what the girls were doing that Halloween had been forbidden, way back in 1692. They were trying to consecrate the mass grave of their ancestors, five of the women who had been executed during that dark time—­for signing the devil’s book.”

Bob paused again.

“The ritual the Goddesses were performing that Halloween night in 1989 had been against Puritan law in 1692. To consecrate the ground where one of the Salem witches was buried was once an offense punishable by death. Which, ironically, is exactly what happened to those beautiful young women in 1989. Someone, or something, decided to punish them.

“Strangely, the bodies of all those executed in 1692 had disappeared shortly after the hangings, never to be found again. This is one of Salem’s greatest mysteries. But the bodies of the Goddesses were left for all to see. Their throats were slashed, their corpses pushed into the same mass grave where their ancestors had once been buried.”

Another lie, Rafferty thought. The bodies of the Goddesses had never been put on display. Where did Bob come up with this nonsense?

“There were only two survivors that night in 1989, a middle-­aged woman and a young girl. The woman was found in Broad Street Cemetery, covered with the blood of the victims, ranting about the unearthly creature who, she claimed, had killed the girls. Most think the woman was the guilty one. A once-­respected historian and scholar, she lost her mind that night and has never recovered. To this day, you can see her wandering the streets of Salem, predicting the death of everyone she meets. She has never been charged. No one could ever prove who the guilty party really was. Some think it was the crazy woman. Others believe the killer is a far more sinister creature, a screaming spirit of ancient powers who returns every Halloween to claim new victims.”

On cue, a high-­pitched scream pierced the air just behind Rafferty.

The group gasped.

Rafferty spun around in time to see Actor Bob’s accomplice run from the woods. “You’d better run,” Rafferty said under his breath. He pushed through the brambles, swearing as a branch snapped back, slapping him on the side of his face.

“What about the little girl?” one of the tourists asked. “What happened to her?”

“No one knows,” Bob replied, pausing once more for effect. “The little girl disappeared shortly after the murders. No one has seen or heard from her since.”

At the sound of Rafferty’s uncontrolled groan, the now terrified tourists reeled around. Even Actor Bob held his breath until he spotted Rafferty coming through the brambles.

“Are we just about done?” Rafferty asked. “Or is there more to this ridiculous story you’re trying to sell these poor people? Bob, you know you’re not allowed to do this here.”

Rafferty hated that the still-­unsolved case had become fodder for fright tours and tourist dollars, taking on mythical and paranormal proportions and embellished with exaggerated details that simply weren’t true. The murders had taken place years before he arrived in Salem, but, to Rafferty’s mind, the lack of closure was a stain on the police department that he now ran.

Rafferty escorted the tourists back to the hearse, then led the car out of the parking lot and onto Boston Street, turning left at the intersection and continuing downtown to the far end of Essex Street, which was party central.

As always, the pedestrian-­only walkway was full of revelers: pirates, sexy witches, monsters, and zombies. Lots of zombies. The undead outnumbered the pirates and witches about ten to one. From the middle of the crowd, he could hear the amplified voices of the evangelists preaching fire and brimstone to the revelers, damning their souls to Hell unless they repented and stopped partying. They had added drums this year and cymbals that clanged each time a preacher mentioned Hell. The partiers were laughing and applauding. It didn’t seem like there would be any confrontations between the groups tonight.

At a gathering on the corner, Rafferty saw a family wearing homemade costumes that featured bloody stumps where their limbs should have been. They were pulling a little red wagon full of body parts. He watched another man who stood on the sidelines dressed as an oven, complete with burners that turned off and on. A very convincing set of duct-­taped Siamese twin dogs ran in front of his cruiser, nipping at each other’s faces, frustrated by their unnatural confinement. The usuals were present and accounted for, too, the Frankensteins and the mummies posing for photos at their regular posts by the Peabody Essex Museum, out-­of-­touch vampires still sporting sparkling glitter in homage to Twilight. They’ll be zombies next year, Rafferty thought. Vampires had been passé in Salem for quite a while now.

He felt sorry for some of the store owners, the ones who paid rent for shops no one could get to through these crowds. It happened every year. Dozens of fortune-­tellers set up their booths on Essex Street right in front of the year-­round shops that were vying for the same customers. The competition between the resident and visiting psychics had been a big problem a few years back. As a result, Salem now licensed its psychics before allowing them to set up their temporary booths in October.

“How the hell do you license a psychic?” Rafferty had asked when he’d heard about the plan. “I mean, do you have them do a reading and then just wait a few months to see if any of their predictions come true?”

“We’ll follow San Francisco’s lead,” the town clerk had told him. “We’re going to use their psychic licensing standards.”

“Of course we are.” Rafferty had laughed, relieved he didn’t have to figure out how to do something so ridiculous. It turned out that all they had to do was check criminal backgrounds before granting licenses. Anyone without a past could now read the future.

From Essex Street, Rafferty drove over to Pickering Wharf. Traffic was bumper to bumper. Some partiers were heading out of the city before the fireworks at the end of the evening, but many were still trying to get in. He was happy to see that the group down by the harbor was fairly docile. He rolled down his window to speak to a patrolman who’d come up from Jamaica Plain.

“Just stick around long enough for the traffic to die down, then either head home or over to the party at the Hawthorne. Best Halloween party in town.”

“Will do, thanks.”

The Hawthorne Hotel hosted the famous Witches Ball annually, a few nights before Halloween. Tonight would be their more traditional costume party, with prizes given for the best creations; a few years back, Rafferty and his wife, Towner, had been judges.

He parked his car by Bunghole Liquors and walked over to the wharf.

Ann Chase was locking up her Shop of Shadows early tonight.

Six feet tall with thick red hair free-­falling halfway down her back, and a “grey witch” by her own admission, Ann practiced neither white nor black magic but something in between. Tonight, she was wearing her traditional black witch’s robe. It moved with her stride like a flock of blackbirds, making her look even more magical than usual, if that was possible.

People claimed Ann had a magnetic charge that defied normal boundaries. Depending on your own polarity, you generally found yourself standing either too close to or too far away from Ann Chase. Rafferty intentionally placed himself into the latter category—­as much as he wished it weren’t true, their history meant he kept her at arm’s length whenever possible.

Ann had once explained to him why it was her choice to practice grey magic instead of the more common “white magic” that most Salem witches were into. A black magic witch—­the bad, menacing kind you saw on television or in The Wizard of Oz—­was an unnuanced caricature no self-­respecting Salem witch would embrace. Besides, any witch worth her salt knew that every “black” spell you performed came back to you threefold.

“So why don’t you stick with the love potions and lottery ticket enhancers that most witches sell around here?” he’d asked.

“The world is too messed up to be a bliss ninny, Rafferty. Sometimes you need to fight back. You of all people should know that.”

Ann normally played the good witch, selling everything from herbal remedies to lace. But sometimes, when she got bored with the tourists, she liked to scare them. Especially on Halloween.

“Had enough of the tourists, have you?” Rafferty laughed.

“That’s an understatement.”

“Mickey tells me you started a rumor that there’s some weird energy out there tonight.” His tone was dismissive. He looked at the wharf again. Nothing seemed amiss. People were now watching the fireworks exploding over the harbor, illuminating the docked replica of the Friendship. Looking at the great sailing ship, he imagined himself—­for an instant—­back in the early 1800s, when hundreds of the huge vessels still sailed from Salem, once the richest port in the New World.

“You doubt me, do you?” Ann’s expression was one of amusement.

“Wouldn’t dare.” He laughed again, in spite of himself.

“It’s the blood moon,” she insisted, “and the eclipses.” She gestured to the sky. The clouds had lifted, and now the waxing quarter-­moon shone with no remaining trace of red. The lunar eclipse a few weeks ago had occurred during the day and wasn’t visible from the East Coast, but that night, the full “blood moon” had been the color of rust.

Rafferty knew the lore. His Irish American grandmother had called it a hunter’s moon, but the Pagans had coined this more ominous phrase. It was simply October’s full moon. “The blood moon rose a couple of weeks ago,” Rafferty said. “So I doubt that’s the culprit.”

“It’s the tetrad, Rafferty.” Ann sighed as if explaining to a child. “Four lunar eclipses. This weird energy you don’t believe in isn’t going to end until September of next year.”

As if to prove Ann right, a wind suddenly gusted around them, creating a screeching sound that would fit right in at the haunted houses on Derby Street. It stopped as quickly as it had started.

“You doing parlor tricks again?” Rafferty asked.

“Hey, I didn’t do that. That one came from the other side.”

More Pagan lore. Halloween and its Pagan predecessor, Samhain, were the time of year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was supposed to be at its thinnest. The things Rafferty had learned since moving here! He didn’t buy any of it, of course. “You think it’s some kind of warning?”

“I think it’s more like a preamble.” She stared at him as she spoke. She was serious.

Despite his skepticism, Rafferty shivered.


The fireworks had ended, and the witches were gone. Rose Whelan settled her cart under the only oak left standing at the top of Gallows Hill, not far from the pavilion, with its caving roof and urine stench. The banshee music was in her ears tonight, and death was everywhere. Each fall, the leaves looked exhausted before they began to reveal the true colors that lay beneath their green masks. Every year, as they felt fall’s inescapable death pull, they turned the reds and oranges and yellows that drew tourists to New England. The maples, whose leaves were always the first to turn, were naked now, their webbed branches sweeping the dark sky like witches’ brooms. Only the oaks still held their scarlet flames.

Rose was exhausted, too. She greeted the tree as she sat down under it. Then she spoke to the pigeons; she was simply going to join them for the one night, she explained. Soon, she was drifting off, moving in and out of consciousness, dreaming a recurring nightmare from her stay at the state hospital. In it, the witches’ hanging tree was chopped down, and then its massive trunk was floated along the North River toward open ocean, like a Viking ship carrying the souls of the dead to Valhalla. The dream woke her up, as it did every time she had it. Though she’d been dozing for only a short while, it took her a moment to get her bearings. It was the cooing of the pigeons that reminded her: Gallows Hill, a misleadingly named park that had nothing to do with what really happened here.

“If it weren’t for me,” Rose told the birds, “historians would still claim Salem built a gallows to execute them. On this very spot.” She shook her head. “You wouldn’t be living here if they had. You wouldn’t build your nests where any such thing had happened, would you? Of course not.”

The hanging spot, on Proctor’s Ledge, sat unmarked, abandoned, and overgrown next to the Walgreens parking lot just below. The hanging tree, on which the condemned had been executed, had vanished long ago, and even the crevasse that had served as their mass grave was barely visible now, but Rose could still feel it there, unsanctified and cursing the whole area with bad luck. The Great Salem Fire had started right across the street in 1914, destroying hundreds of houses and leaving half the population homeless. To this day, there was crime, violence, and a darkness the neighborhood couldn’t shake. The only way to stop it was to finish the blessing they had started that night on Proctor’s Ledge, the night her girls were murdered.

Rose had been wrong that night, taking the girls up there. Not because the place didn’t need to be consecrated, but because the remains of the executed from 1692 were no longer there. Shortly after the hysteria ended, the bodies had begun to disappear from the crevasse into which they had been thrown. Two of the bodies had been taken by their families and buried properly, but the remains of the others executed that dark year had simply vanished. What in the world had happened to them?

“Find the hanging tree, and you will solve the mystery,” the oak trees had told Rose over and over, and she had come to believe them. “Find the tree and finish the blessing. For it is not just the wrongly executed who need God’s mercy, but the tree itself for the part it was forced to play.”

Rose had listened carefully when the trees began to speak. The oaks had saved her that horrible night in 1989, and she owed them a debt of gratitude. Finding the hanging tree had become Rose’s sole purpose in life.

The birds appeared unimpressed, and Rose closed her eyes again, sighing. “There was a hanging tree,” she mumbled, her speech slowing as she grew sleepier. “That is true. Down there.” She pointed toward Proctor’s Ledge. Rose hadn’t been back to the spot since that night. This was as close as she dared get.

“The hanging tree disappeared . . . everything disappeared. The tree, the remains of the nineteen people they executed as witches, and even the young women I used to know.” Rose began to doze. “You’ll disappear one day, too,” she murmured to the birds, her voice slowing even more. “You don’t know that, but it’s true. Everything disappears. The banshee takes them all . . .” Her head dropped to her chest, and she became silent.

“Hey, grandma, the witches all went home.”

Rose’s eyes snapped open. There were three boys standing too close in front of her. The one who’d spoken couldn’t be more than fifteen. Low-­riding baggy jeans and heavy boots made him look younger than the OG tattoo on his arm.

“I’m not a witch.”

He moved even closer, smirking, his blue eyes in stark contrast to the dark look he focused on Rose. “I know exactly who you are. And I know what you did.”

“Keep your distance from me,” Rose warned.

“Good idea,” he said, fanning his face. “You got a real stink there, grandma. When’s the last time you took a shower?”

“Go home,” the second kid said, shoving her.

“She doesn’t have a home, do you, grandma?” OG laughed.

“Keep your hands off me,” Rose said, pressing her back against the tree, hearing her pulse in her ears. “I’m not afraid of you.”

“You should be,” the second kid said, laughing.

“You’re the one who should be afraid,” Rose countered.

“Yeah? Why’s that?” the second kid taunted. “You planning to kill me the same way you killed the rest of them? By screaming?”

“Screaming?” OG started to laugh. “She didn’t kill them by screaming. That’s just what she told the cops. She slashed their throats.”

“I know,” the second kid said.

“I don’t want to kill anyone.” Rose hoped she wouldn’t have to. She thought of Olivia, Susan, and Cheryl.

“She’s crazy,” the third kid said. “Let’s go.”

Rose liked this one. His eyes were still soft. She spoke directly to him. “It’s her you have to be afraid of. Not me.”

“Who?” Soft Eyes asked, looking around.

She turned back to OG. “She could kill you right now and no one could stop her.”

“Did you hear that? She said she could kill me.” OG pulled a knife out of his pocket. “Seems like I’m the one holding the blade tonight. Be afraid, grandma. Be very afraid.” With a quick slash, he drew the dull side of the blade across her neck.

Rose scrambled to her feet.

“I didn’t say you could leave,” OG said.

“He did.” Soft Eyes turned to the second kid. “He told her to go.”

“Well, I didn’t,” OG said. “Sit back down.” He pushed hard, slamming her back against the tree, knocking the wind out of her.

“You’re the one who needs to sit down,” Rose choked. “If you don’t, you’re going to die.”

OG laughed. “How’s that?”

“You’re in mortal danger. From the banshee.”

“The What-­she? Bee-she?” Soft Eyes said.

“You know the story,” the second kid said. “She’s the one who killed all those girls. Said a banshee did it. By screaming.”

“That’s right,” Rose said. “She could kill you, too.”

“I told you she was crazy,” Soft Eyes said. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“No way,” OG said, grinning at Rose. “I want to hear this. Tell my friend here about the banshee. It’s Halloween, grandma. I want to hear a scary story.” He held the point of the blade against her cheek.

She could see his life. There had already been violence in it, a lot of it. A string of brutality stretched out before him. She didn’t see his death the way she could with most people. What she saw when she looked into his empty eyes was the death of everyone around him.

“Tell him, or I’ll kill you right here. And no one can stop me. Tell him the same story you told the cops. About the banshee,” OG insisted.

She turned back to the one with the soft eyes. This was the one who would need to understand one day. She swallowed hard.

“Tell him!” OG ordered. “Once upon a time . . .” he prompted, pressing the knife harder against her skin.

“All right,” Rose said, taking a breath.

“When I was growing up, my Irish grandmother told me there was a sacred oak back in the old country called the Banshee Tree. It was a wild wreck of a thing struck by lightning years earlier.”

Soft Eyes just stared at her.

“Some believed the Gaelic goddess of life and death was imprisoned inside that same tree for many centuries before the storm, tricked by the Christian priests who had come to Ireland to convert the Celtic tribes and would tolerate no gods but their own, and certainly no goddesses. Theirs was the one and only God, they said to justify her capture. Some say it was the Cailleach they imprisoned, but some called her by other names. You see, there were many goddesses who dealt with life and death. The imprisonment changed the nature of the goddess, diminishing her to the size of the fairies who dwelt in the mounds. It was a tragedy of great magnitude.

“But the tree loved the imprisoned goddess and took pity on her. Not yet loyal to the priests who had newly arrived, the tree hatched a plan: to free the captive goddess, the oak tree courted the strike.”

The second kid snorted. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Shut up and she’ll tell you,” OG said.

“The storm that killed that oak was the worst in memory; the scream of the wailing wind circled the town once, twice, and then a third time, terrifying everyone. The lightning bolt vaporized the water in the wood, exploding its limbs and—­some say—­freeing the captive goddess. But freeing the goddess was the worst thing the tree could have done, for her imprisonment had changed her very nature, turning her from a goddess to a banshee, not the ones you’ve heard about, who only predict death, but one who actually kills.”

“A killer banshee.” The second kid laughed. “Right.”

“I thought a banshee was some kind of ATV,” Soft Eyes said.

“The tree should have left the goddess imprisoned, for freeing it would have consequences far beyond anything the oak could have imagined. The turning had made the goddess hate. Her size was still diminished, and her powers were no longer strong enough to determine life and death. She needed a host. Life no longer interested her; it was only death she craved now. Her sustenance became hate and fear, and where these baser emotions dwelled, the banshee goddess would always find a willing host.

“It was the tree that, perhaps, suffered the most, for it was forced to bear witness to the carnage it had unleashed. After the lightning strike that freed the turned goddess and forevermore, the tree’s sap has run red, as if it were bleeding.”

“Bleeding trees?” the second kid sneered. “Goddesses turning . . .”

Rose shuddered to remember just how that goddess had turned. That night in 1989, Rose had lost them all to the creature the goddess had become: the banshee. Those young women the banshee killed had been like her own daughters. On that horrible night, after it happened, after the shrieking stopped, the world had quieted and then disappeared. Rose had found herself staring into an eternal emptiness that stretched in every direction and went on forever. When the keening began, Rose had believed that the sound was coming from her own lips. Then she’d seen the tree limbs and branches start to move with the breath of the sound itself, their last leaves burning in the black sky like crackling paper. Then the trees had begun to speak. Come away now, the trees had said. Come away. Their mournful keen had jumped from one tree to another, and Rose had followed. But something had been unleashed by their ritual. What had been meant to consecrate had instead released something else, something that had jumped into Rose.

“You’re out of your mind, old lady,” OG said, enjoying the flash of his knife in the moonlight as he played the blade across her cheek, this time drawing blood.

It was the last thing he saw before the unearthly screeching began.

Meet the Author

Brunonia Barry is the New York Times and international best selling author of The Lace Reader, The Map of True Places, and her latest book: The Fifth Petal. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She was the first American author to win the International Women’s Fiction Festival’s Baccante Award and was a past recipient of Ragdale Artists’ Colony’s Strnad Invitational Fellowship as well as the winner of New England Book Festival’s award for Best Fiction. Her reviews and articles on writing have appeared in the London Times and the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post. Brunonia co-chairs the Salem Athenaeum’s Writers’ Committee. She lives in Salem with her husband Gary Ward and their dog, Angel. Gary and Bru are the organizers of the Salem Literary Festival.

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The Fifth Petal 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous 22 days ago
This latest story by Brunonia Barry did not disappoint. I love the way she draws you in and the ending is never what you expect
sandrabrazier 6 days ago
Everyone in Salem knows about the infamous and horrific ‘Goddess Murders’ of 1989. When Rose, one of the survivors of that horrible night, becomes the suspect in the murder of a teenage boy, Billy Barnes, Callie decides that she must return to Salem. Callie must see if she can help Rose. After all, if it hadn’t been for Rose, Callie could have been a victim that night, also. Rose saved her that night. Callie, a professional sound healer, feels she may be able to help Rose, so, as soon as she finds out that Rose is in a catatonic state, she rushes to her side. She returns to Salem...and to her memories. I love Brunonia Barry’s books about the mystical, magical city of Salem, Massachusetts. This book is even better than the ones I have read previously. Her ultra-realistic characters carry her mystifying plot, dragging the reader along a path of suspense. I could not put this down. Our author also introduces her readers to something new. In this case, she tells us about the subject of healing with sound. In addition, she introduces the reader to a lovely and unusual part of the world, Sassi of Matera. I enjoyed every minute of this book! I wish to thank Netgalleys for the free copy of this book.
Michelle_Palmer 7 days ago
Set in modern day Salem, Massachusetts with call backs to 20 years ago and the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, this murder mystery includes fascinating characters and a great plot. Callie is a music therapist but she is also the survivor or an event 20 years ago that took everyone she knew away from her. Not only were her mother and 2 other women murdered but the woman she considered a grandmother disappeared from her life and she was told she was dead as well. She heads to Salem when a new murder occurs and that same woman is accused of the crime. Rafferty and Towner from the first book in this series (The Lace Reader) are back and play a large part. Rafferty is the town sheriff and helps Callie to settle in as well as trying to protect her from some uncomfortable truths about the past. The characters are wonderful, the setting is beautifully described (particularly the trees which play a large part in the story) and the plot is incredibly well paced. This is a real page turner.
BookwormforKids 8 days ago
Twisted between layers of paranormal and hard reality, this is a murder mystery which keeps the shadows dark and the tension high until the very end. When a teenager is found dead and the murderess claims to be a banschee, John Rafferty finds himself reopening the unsolved murder case of three self-claimed goddesses from years before. Callie, the child who miraculously survived the crime from that time, returns. Her slowly recovering memory leads to more secrets and dark places no one wants to go. I did not read the first book of this series and had no trouble sinking into this one. In other words, this can be read as a stand alone. This is a wonderfully layered tale, which dances between history, ancient myths, magic and reality in a way which makes everything seem possible and even the impossible appear probable. The real reason behind the murders doesn't become clear until the last pages, and although unexpected, the truth is well founded. Told in third person, the story bounces between two characters: Officer Rafferty and Callie. John Rafferty is a down to earth cop, who is fairly open minded, warm hearted and as normal as can be. He's easy to relate to and comes across as a comfortable person to be around. He has a good sense of justice and means well. Callie is deals well with the situation she was thrust into. Her past is heavy and dark, but she's managed to pull through as a sympathetic individual, who enjoys helping others where she can. In many ways, she's similar to Rafferty and tends to be a fairly well-rounded person with a level head. There is a large palette on characters, but each one comes across with a different personality and certain purpose. Each one has their secrets and adds to the intricate weave of reality and truth in a way which brings the story to life. The historical and mythological details create a rich background and open up an intriguing past. Not only the Salem witch hunts, but pieces from other ancient beliefs decorate the edges and make this an interesting read. The fact and fiction intertwine until the two are hard to tell apart. And it's exactly this which draws into the story and doesn't let go. The scenes and surroundings are (in most cases) only given the necessary amount of description, keeping the focus on the historical and mythological details as well as the characters. Summed up, this is an engaging read for fans of witches and mythology who still like a solid foot in reality. The history is rich and the mystery is dark and twisted. I received a complimentary copy from 'Blogging for Books' and enjoyed it enough to want to leave my thoughts.
Storytellermary 9 days ago
THE FIFTH PETAL by Brunonia Barry Wonderfully complex, with layers of story, from the Salem witch trials to a cold case murder in the ‘80s, to present time, like the layers of a pearl, or a flower bud, or the inter weavings of lace and tree branches. It was fascinating to watch it all come together. Well-written and engrossing; I couldn’t put it down, despite thinking I needed to. Tension and suspense were relieved with wit, like this quip about background checks for psychics: “Anyone without a past could now read the future.” “Crazy lady” Rose gets messages from the oak trees and seeks to find and bless the remains of the Salem witches and control the death-dealing banshee. Callie, survivor of that night, heals with music and sound while dealing with her own visions and memories. The music therapy connected for me — a teaching colleague practiced music therapy, and a hospice nurse used my storytelling CDs to help her patients relax and rest. Rose’s drawing of a tree “looks like lace.” I’ve thought that also, looking at winter trees. “Humans are rooted like trees.” Roots below, branches above “on earth as it is in heaven” Wisdom for our times: “Once you start demonizing groups of people, when you make them the other, you can justify just about anything you want to do to them, can’t you? Look at history . . .”
Jill-Elizabeth_dot_com 14 days ago
I was very pleased to see Brunonia Berry return to the world of The Lace Reader – I read it years ago when it first came out and really enjoyed it. Well, it had been a while, so I decided I had to re-read it before I could give this latest installment a go. I’m glad I did – I’ve seen a few reviews/comments indicate that you don’t have to read the earlier book to enjoy this one. That may technically be true, but you’d lose a lot I think – the mystery in this new book is not dependent on backstory or information from the earlier book, but the depth of the supporting characters would be completely lost if you had not read it… I enjoyed this one. The mystery at its heart – what exactly happened to The Goddesses on the night of their murder, and who exactly was responsible – is wild and complicated and intense. The plot is engaging (although, I will admit, not quite as much to me so as that of the earlier book) and the secrets are thick on the ground. But, once again, Berry’s true magic is in her characters… And that’s where I think reading The Lace Reader before this one really turns this book into something special. She has an uncanny ability to write complicated, flawed, all too human characters that are likeable and believable even when they are at their most outlandish (or most badly behaved). The plot of this one occasionally felt a little distended to me – there were times when I just had to set the book down, because things felt a little draggy. But I always came back, and they always picked back up again. And the ending – wow. It really grabbed and held me. All in all, I found this read a little more difficult than I hoped for, but it was still quite enjoyable to read – even when the story took me to some of its darkest places. I’m starting to think that may be a key element of Berry’s style – her lovely and fragile (and often broken, albeit not permanently so) characters are forced through the fire more often than I’m comfortable with, but they (and we, as readers) always manage to come out the other side. We – like they – just have to persevere… My review copy was provided by NetGalley.
bookluvr35SL 16 days ago
Salem's most notorious unsolved crime, was "The Goddess Murders" in which 3 young women known as "The Goddesses" were brutally murdered on Halloween night in 1989. The only known survivors were Rose (who became known as the town's crazy homeless woman" and Callie, who was the daughter of one of the victims. When a teenage boy dies mysteriously on Halloween night and people start accusing Rose of being the murderer, the investigation uncovers many secrets that people wanted to stay hidden. This book was a thrill ride from beginning to end. I could not put it down. This is definitely a must-read!
Chris721 17 days ago
25 years ago 3 women were murdered on Halloween. Callie's mom was one of the women. She left town after the murders and just returned home. The police chief is still trying to solve the murder from 25 years ago. The book is mainly told from Callie's point of view. It is a story of murder, mystery, and magic. Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for allowing me to read and review this book.
PNWBookworm 17 days ago
The Fifth Petal, by Brunonia Barry, is a mystery with wisps of magic and witchcraft and a healthy dose of Salem history. While the story focuses in large part on the murder of three girls in the year 1989, and a police detectives quest to finally uncover the truth, it is also a story of the people who were affected by the murders and the ways that the past bleeds into the future. The characters in this book brought interesting things into the story that helped keep my interest. For example, Callie, who is one of the main characters, is a sound healer and uses singing bowls to treat people. I found this fascinating and felt that the author did a wonderful job describing this. I have no idea how accurate it is to true sound healers but it made for an interesting addition to the story. Though I truly enjoyed this book there were a couple of faults. The beginning of the story is a bit slow and it took a little while for the story to really grab me. It took me a couple days to make it through part one and only a few hours to finish parts two and three. There were times when I felt like there was too much going on, too many storylines in one section, but it was easy to overlook that. If you have an interest in witchcraft and the occult, then this would be a good read for you. If you like mystery with only a small bit of romance thrown in this will be a good choice. In addition, it is not necessary to have read the first novel by the author, The Lace Reader, to enjoy this one. My overall rating for this book is 4 out of 5 stars. One star removed for the slow beginning.
KikiD870 27 days ago
The Fifth Petal is the second book in The Lace Reader series. I really enjoyed the first book, especially with its setting of Salem and the witch history. This novel is set several years into the future and it features some new characters along with some from the first book. Callie is at the center of this book, having come back to Salem after decades away. Salem holds a lot of memories for Callie, many of them too horrible to want to revisit. But coming back forces her to confront her demons, both inside herself and those around her. Like the first novel, the story blends magic, history, and thriller elements to create a rich story. The characters are so quirky, even if you didn't like them. The local witch at times seems harmless and at other times the femme fatale. The romantic hero is one moment the privileged son of wealth, the next passionate about his work. Callie is a healer, who uses sound and singing bowls as her healing modality. And there is even a bit of old world feuding that has persevered for centuries, manifesting itself in unexpected ways. I loved the story, but there was a lot going on at times that made it a lot to track. There really were two major plot lines, that while they overlapped from time to time, could really have been two different stories. One other thing to love... I loved Towner in the first novel so seeing her character's life now was wonderful. She was such a tragic character in the first that it was good to see her happy in the second. All in all, a great read!
Nsnr42515 3 months ago
I read this book almost a year ago thanks to a free review copy I won! AMAZING book, I loved how it went from past to present and the entire story pulls you in & keeps you guessing until the end! Great book, very interesting especially if you like reading about Salam witch trials!
onemused 3 months ago
"The Fifth Petal" is a mildly paranormal mystery. Callie has grown up with the belief that she carries the shroud of death after seeing her mother and her friends (called the goddesses) killed when she was young. She was "saved" by Rose Wheelan, who gave her a rosary and told her to recite her prayers. The rosary had a five-petal flower on it which she had pressed into her palm so hard, she permanently carries the scar from it. Rose has been homeless and somewhat crazy since the death of the young women who she took care of (including Callie's mother), saying that a banshee killed them and she is holding the banshee inside of her so it won't kill again. Prior to these events, she was a historian working on the Salem witch trials, during which her ancestors had been accused and executed. Rose lives with trees around town, and feels that they talk to her. It is under one such tree that she is accosted by mean young men, and she replies to his threats with the screams of a banshee (she believes) that kills him. Although she confesses to murder, Rafferty, a cop who moved to Salem long after the goddess murders had happened, knows Rose because she owns the tree outside his house (it was left to her in the woman who owned the house's will). He and his wife, Towner, try to help Rose and keep a room for her in their house. Callie hears about Rose, and previously unaware that Rose, the only mother-figure she had really known, is alive, she travels back to Salem. Callie begins to meet with Rafferty as the town cries for the reopening and exuming of the goddesses. Callie's memories seem to hold the key to solving the murders of so long ago. The book is somewhat odd, containing elements of witchcraft and some paranormal abilities in Salem's descendants. Although the murders are the continuous element of the book, the events go all over the place and focus on the general town's history- and the fact that no one is whom they seem to be/everyone has many secrets which seem to keep appearing. The whole town seemed to be hiding things, and these things seemed to slowly come to light, adding some extra mystery to the book. There is also a slow build-up to a romance between Callie and one of the people who live in/around Salem. It seemed to detract from the main premise of the story (the unsolved murders), but it contributed to the final ending. That being said, I felt like it could have been achieved in other ways/I didn't particularly care for them as a couple. I am not sure that the book was quite focused enough- it seemed to get lost in tangents pretty frequently, and I found that it was hard to keep reading/easy to get lost if you put it down for a day (sometimes even when reading straight). There are a lot of side characters and some of the main pieces seemed to get lost in extraneous information. However, I did keep reading to the end and didn't quite guess who was behind the murders (though I did pick up some of the pieces along the way). It was a very windy path through the book and some of the supernatural elements felt a bit like an afterthought. The book changes a lot over time and almost felt like separate stories/events from the first few chapters versus the last few. Overall, it was an intriguing book and a good mystery with some paranormal elements that keep you reading all the way until the end. Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher through netgalley. All opinions are entirely my own.
Deb-Krenzer 3 months ago
This book had me riveted. I could not put it down. That is until Callie and her lover (I forget his name) went to Europe and visited the caves which he was helping to repair. Then the story slowed waaayyy down. After that, it picked up a little bit, but it never reached the momentum that it had going from the beginning. It was a good witch story and I was interested for the most part. I just wish it hadn't slowed down 3/4 of the way in. Huge thanks to Crown Publishing for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
KrisAnderson_TAR 3 months ago
A Fatal Romance by June Shaw is the first book in A Twin Sisters Mystery series. Sunny Taylor and Eve Vaughn are identical twins with very different personalities. The two of them joined together to open Twin Sister Remodeling and Repairs in Sugar Ledge, Louisiana. Eve and Sunny are attending the funeral of Zane Snelling, a client. They did a patio and pond for the Snellings. Zane had tripped on his patio and ended up drowning in his pond. The widow enters the church with the urn, trips, the lid pops off and ashes fly out. Some ashes end up on Sunny and in her jacket pocket (which causes to her laugh in nervousness). Sunny offers to fetch a sweeper and Daria Snelling gets upset. Sunny starts belting out a Christmas carol (she does this when uncomfortable, nervous, or thinking about relations with men). Daria orders the twins to leave the church. Sunny later discovers that some ashes are in her jacket pocket. She calls and leaves a message for Daria stating she has something that belonged to Zane and leaves her phone number. Later that day Eve returns to her home to find it ransacked. Someone destroyed her paintings (I am using the word loosely) and left a message on the wall. What were the intruders looking for? When Daria does not return Sunny’s call, the twins go over to her home. They find Daria dead in her kitchen. Detective Wilet is assigned the case and his investigation leads him to Sunny (of course). When clients start canceling their jobs, Sunny sets out to find the real killer. But this murderer will go to great lengths to avoid capture including killing anyone in his way! A Fatal Romance is an interesting concept for a new cozy mystery series. I do not believe there is another series with a set of twins. I found the pace of the novel to be on the slow side, and I was not fond of the characters. I found Sunny to be neurotic. She also has self-esteem issues (appearance and intelligence), and is jealous of her sister. She is also overprotective of Eve and smothers her (I understand why, but it was still unpleasant). Sunny worried about Eve over the course of the investigation. She would drive down her street, call her, and enter her home to check on her (many, many times). If I was Eve, I would change the locks of my home (or move away and leave no forwarding address). I believe Sunny’s singing of Christmas songs is supposed to be humorous, but I found it annoying (my mother thought it was funny, but she did not have to read the whole book). Eve is egocentric and intent on finding the love of her life (she has three ex-husbands from whom she still receives expensive gifts). I think the author was going for quirky, but she missed the mark with these characters. The characters lacked depth and realism. I give A Fatal Romance 2 out of 5 stars (not a fan). Sunny going on about Zane’s ashes was not amusing. She kept going on about the “flakes” in her jacket pocket and I thought she was going to lose it when she found some in the church. The mystery was uncomplicated (once it got started). I could identify the culprit long before the reveal (very small suspect pool). A Fatal Romance is just not my type of cozy mystery (I am told it might be because I lack a sense of humor).
KarenfromDothan 3 months ago
Set in Salem, Massachusetts, Brunonia Barry’s, The Fifth Petal, is the story of a woman traumatized when she was five years old by the murder of three young women, one of whom was her mother, and the police chief determined to find the killer. While there are elements of witchcraft and Irish mythology, it’s not really a fantasy story. It’s more of a murder/mystery. With colorful characters like Ann Chase, Salem’s most famous witch and proprietor of the Shop of Shadows, and Mickey Doherty, an entrepreneur who dresses like a pirate, it hooked me right from the very beginning. Suspenseful and well plotted, the true villain isn’t revealed until the very end. This nicely paced novel combines mystery with romance and just a touch of magic.
KimBullock 3 months ago
I very much enjoyed Brunonia Barry's earlier books, but The Fifth Petal is, in my opinion, far and away her best novel to date. It's lush, it's suspenseful, and it builds to a shocking conclusion that made my jaw literally drop. Having recently visited Salem, the novel became that much more personal; I mentally walked familiar streets along with Callie and Rafferty. When Rose communed with her sacred oaks, I imagined a particular oak I encountered in a cemetery there, remembered how I was drawn to hold my hand over its bark, and swore I felt the tree breathe. For readers who have never been to Salem, the energy and magic of the place is captured brilliantly here. Characters from her earlier novels reappear, though this story stands on its own. Make sure to read it at a time when it won't matter too much if you sit up until three in the morning. The rich tapestry of Barry's world isn't easily escaped.