Portland, Maine, 1892.
When a young woman is found—half-naked, run through with a pitchfork, missing her right hand, and extremely dead—surrounded by ritualistic implements and a line of seemingly incomprehensible chalk letters on the wall, Deputy Marshal Archie Lean, poetry aficionado, family man, and reluctant nicotine addict, gets stuck with the case.
Other than being 100% certain that this is not a case of Prostitute Gets Accidentally Killed By An Overenthusiastic John—an explanation the Mayor would be only too happy to accept—he's kind of at a loss.
Enter Perceval Grey. He's dapper and cultured, highly educated, a former Pinkerton, and known for being an extremely "modern, scientific" detective... all of which some people find difficult to reconcile with his Abenaki ancestry. (Because, you know: some people are racist jackasses.)
After a bit of awkwardness, the two men join forces—rounding out their team with an older doctor and his historian niece—and hit the murderer's trail together. The Temperance Union, the Church, and a long-lost book... all of these things factor in, but again and again, everything points back to one thing: witchcraft.
As I've been trying to re-familiarize myself with Adult Land, this was an easy pick: with a premise like that, how could I not, right?
Here's what worked for me:
The setting: Great atmosphere, lots of visual detail about the places and even about traveling between the places. I'll look at Portland differently after reading this, for sure.
The historical tidbits: Lots and lots of anecdotes about the Salem Witch Trials, about Maine history, and the politics of the day. They are often relayed in a way that is More Infodump than Deftly Woven In, but at the very least, they're always interesting. I did wish that the Acknowledgements—which did include a list of sources the author referenced—had been more specific about what he pulled from history and what was fictionalized, but I almost always want more of that.
The humor: Pretty early on—after the headbutting—Archie and Grey slide into the sort of relationship where each mocks the other pretty regularly, and they're both comfortable with it.
Here's what didn't:
Perceval Grey: He's basically Sherlock Holmes, in terms of psychology—he's more focused on logic and fact than on personal relationships or emotion—and deductive techniques, even down to his knowledge of different mixes of tobacco. Yes, OF COURSE there are lots of characters who are basically Sherlock Holmes (House, Monk, Shawn Spencer, Oscar Wilde in those Gyles Brandreth books, Artemis Fowl (to a degree...)), but this was SO OVERT that it made me crabby that there was no nod to Doyle anywhere—I mean, unless I missed one.
The Girl Historian: At first, I loved her. I loved that she was a single mother, that she had good instincts and that she was fully capable of going off on solo investigatory missions. I loved that, in time, she was regarded as a full member of the team, rather than as someone to be coddled.
HERE'S WHERE SHE/THEY/IT LOST ME: [SPOILER] SHE GETS KIDNAPPED BY THE VILLAIN, RESCUED BY GREY, AND THEN, EVEN THOUGH HE COULDN'T BE BOTHERED TO, LIKE, TELL HER THAT HER DAUGHTER (WHO WAS ALSO KIDNAPPED) WAS ALIVE AND WELL, ONCE SHE IS FREED FROM HER BONDS, SHE IS OVERCOME AND PLANTS A BIG SMOOCH ON HIM. [END SPOILER]
Basically, she morphed from Independent Woman into Classic Damsel in Distress, and it really cheesed me off. Was it as offensive as Gwyneth Paltrow's role in Se7en*? No. But it was still annoying.
THE EYEBROWS, OH GOD, THE EYEBROWS. Even when I turn to adult fiction, I can't escape them. "Grey cocked an eyebrow." "Lean cocked an eyebrow." "...his right eyebrow arched upward, like the hammer of a rifle being drawn back..." "Grey looked at him with one eyebrow pointing up to heaven." "...Grey standing nearby, peering at him with an arched eyebrow." "Lean raised an eyebrow." "Grey arched an eyebrow." "Grey raised a sharp eyebrow." "Lean arched an eyebrow in puzzlement..." "...a thin smile and a slight arch of one eyebrow."
Meh. I might still give the second one a try, though.
*In which her character was LITERALLY only there to get killed off and provide a reason for Brad Pitt to embody Wrath?
Book source: Borrowed from my library.