The Fifth Petal
Fans of THE LACE READER, rejoice, for Towner Whitney has returned, along with her husband, Salem’s chief of police John Rafferty. Although things have been quiet in Salem for a while, they are about to get crazy again.
Halloween, 2014 rolls around. Children flood the streets in scary costumes, most having fun but some of the older ones getting up to mischief. One of those bent on troublemaking dies while apparently harassing local historian Rose Whelan, currently homeless and seemingly suffering a mental decline. Many of the village residents have never felt quite comfortable with Rose, believing her to be a witch, at best --- at worst, a killer. You see, back in 1989, three beautiful young women, dubbed the “Goddesses,” were brutally murdered, their bodies cast aside like trash. Five-year-old Callie Cahill, the daughter of one victim, survived only by hiding in a bush. She insists that Rose saved her life.
"Rose Whelan may be the historian in this book, but author Brunonia Barry did her research, filling the story with fascinating tidbits from back in the era of wild hysteria when witch hunting was at its height."
Now, 25 years later, another death with a connection to Rose fires up outcries from Salem’s most vocal citizens. When Callie hears the news, she rushes back to her hometown. She had been under the impression that Rose was dead. Finding out that she’s been lied to, Callie wants --- no, needs --- to discover the truth of what really happened the night her mother died. But Salem doesn’t give up its secrets easily. For centuries, fear and suspicion has resided in its streets. It’s almost as though evil emanates from the town’s very core. But, if Callie is to uncover the facts, she will have to keep her identity hidden, for no one will trust the daughter of one of the Goddesses. Back in the day, the sexy young women played by their own rules. And they played a very dangerous game --- a game, in fact, that eventually got them killed. But was their murderer human?
Fortunately, Callie finds that she can rely on Chief Rafferty and Towner. To her, they come across as the voice of reason in Salem, although even those two must use caution or be viewed with distrust by the very people they work and live alongside. Rafferty wants to solve the cold cases as much as Callie, whether he will admit it or not. Rose’s relationship to them, though, grows increasingly awkward for Rafferty and Towner, placing Callie in an uncomfortable position, too.
In the midst of all this tension, the Whiting family has invited them all to a long-weekend Thanksgiving celebration at their mansion in a neighboring community. It affords Callie a chance to escape the watchful eye of Salem for a few days while also getting a fresh slant on the townsfolk. And it doesn’t hurt that the Whitings’ son, Paul, has a killer smile. Of course, Callie isn’t the only one who has noticed Paul’s charms, so she has to tread carefully or find herself Salem’s next victim. Then there’s the chance that the Whitings may not be who they seem, either.
A worthy follow-up to THE LACE READER, THE FIFTH PETAL has a lot going on in it. Packed with snippets of information about some of Salem’s most notorious residents, it weaves in modern-day characters who should have more rational attitudes about the occult world than the 17th-century folk. Rose Whelan may be the historian in this book, but author Brunonia Barry did her research, filling the story with fascinating tidbits from back in the era of wild hysteria when witch hunting was at its height. Today’s Salemites will appreciate its authenticity, while the rest of us will marvel at the dark times the little city has seen. What’s next, Ms. Barry?
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 27, 2017