Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Fifth Petal

Title:  The Fifth Petal
Author:  Brunonia Barry
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 448 pages.
ISBN:  1101905603 / 978-1101905609

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Isn't it a little late for praying?"

Favorite Quote:  "... once you start demonizing groups of people, when you make them the other, you can justify doing just about anything you want to them, can't you? Look at history if you don't believe me."

Take witchcraft and new age healing practices. Add some mythology. Place it in a historic Salem, Massachusetts setting. Throw in an atmospheric country estate. Write in an eclectic group of strong female characters. Stir in a mystery and a dash of a love story. Orchestrate everything through a police chief with a history and a story of his own. The end result is an entertaining, magical tale.

After reading this book, I realize that it carries on characters introduced in a previous book, which I have not read. Fortunately, this book stands alone well. I can tell that the characters have history, but it adds to the mystique and mystery of the book rather than making me feel like I am missing a piece.

The scene opens on a hospital ER and a terrified little girl holding on to a rosary so hard that it leaves a permanent scar of a perfect five petal rose on her hand. (Think symbolism.) Three women, including the girl's mother, have been murdered.

Fast forward twenty-five years to Halloween night in Salem, Massachusetts. In the middle of the festivities, a young man dies. The conclusion is murder.

The murders so many years apart are related. The accused is a homeless woman, Rose Whelan, who was once a scholar and is now considered mentally ill. She claims it is the work of a banshee, "a mythological female spirit whose mournful cries were considered omens on death."

News of this accusation brings Callie Cahill back to Salem. She still has the scar on her hand, but the little girl is all grown up. She comes back upon discovering that her "aunt" Rose is alive even though Callie has been led to believe that Rose died.

The history of this book goes back to the Salem witch trials in 1692. On July 19, 1692, five women - Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes were hanged in Salem. Their crime was witchcraft.

The fiction goes that Rose Whelan is looking for the place of their death - the hanging tree. She is descended from one of the witches along with Callie Cahill and the women murdered at the beginning of the book. She seeks to consecrate the ground where their ancestors are buried. The mystery proceeds as amongst the women of this book, the police chief identifies descendants of four of the witches. The identify of the fifth - the fifth petal on the rose, if you will - may lead to the solution of all the deaths or yet another victim.

Based on the character descriptions, I guess at the identity of the murderer early on in the book. Based on the description of the setting, I guess where the climax of the book is likely to occur.  However, it does not matter. It is fun following the history in the book, the symbolism (the oak tree, the five petal rose, the role of music in healing), and the intrigues of what ends up being a small town story.

What is even more interesting about the ending is that it leaves an opening for interpretation. The mystery is resolved, but the ending does leave you wondering. Did what I think happened really happen, and does it imply that another book might be coming?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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