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The Hawley Book of the Dead
by Chrysler Szarlan
Ballantine Books, $26.00, 332pp
Published: September 2014

This is a remarkable debut novel. 

Reve Maskelyne and her husband, Jeremy, are world-class stage illusionists working in Las Vegas.  They are much in love with three beautiful daughters and a wonderful life. ..right up until Reve kills Jeremy.  It was a standard trick with blanks in the gun that they’d done a hundred times.  But that time, someone switched the blanks for real bullets.  Not only can Reve not imagine in a hundred years a motive for someone to want to kill Jeremy, but she begins to suspect that the killer is stalking her and her daughters.  As soon as possible, she packs up her family and horses and leaves for a family home in Massachusetts. 

The family home is an abandoned house in an abandoned town that belongs solely to her grandmother; a strange woman who doesn’t always answer a straight question with a straight answer.  Reve comes from a strange family so most of that doesn’t disturb her.  She has always known she was descended from a line of women who were, in a darker age, called witches.  Each woman has had a particular skill or talent; Reve’s talent is Disappearing – a talent that came in real handy working as a magician.  Her two older twin daughters haven’t yet exhibited a talent but her ten-year-old, Caleigh, seems able to conjure things by creating patterns with string.  After they move into the old house, Reve attempts to learn more about the town and how it came to be abandoned.  None of the townspeople in the next closest town are willing to talk about anything and the mystery begins to obsess Reve.  She worries that the stalker will find her after she gets an email threatening that very thing so she reconnects with the town sheriff, her first love – Jolon.  The house then gives her a book – the book of the title.  The pages are blank but while handling the book, Reve falls into a vision and enters the mind of the stalker.  She knows now that he is on his way to her.  She has security installed around the house and her grandmother sends her a strange man with a bow and arrow to help protect the girls.  But none of that stopped the awful event of her two twin girls disappearing while riding their horses.  The problem was that the massive manhunt found no trace whatsoever of the girls or their horses.

A confrontation with her grandmother finally answered the question of what happened so long ago to make a whole town disappear.  The truth was more tragic than Reve could have imagined; but it held the key to her daughters’ whereabouts.  Howeer, knowing where they were and bringing them back safe were two very different things.  It became apparent to Reve that she would not get her daughters back until the stalker was no longer a threat.  But the man was elusive; almost supernaturally so.

The detail of the plot was amazing.  The threads were shown to us one at a time and slowly we began to see them come together.  The book tells Reve everything about her stalker and the reason for his murderous actions – that actually began years before she even met her husband.  But there’s a shadowy figure who’s really pulling the strings – enchanting and directing the murderous rampage; and, perhaps, even enchanting her daughter, Caleigh.  And there were things about her ancestors that her grandmother had chosen not to share, even with Reve’s own mother, that explained so much.

The characters were wonderful, the dialogue smooth and professional.  Hard to realize this is a debut novel.  The pace was good and the resolution satisfactory; although, not everything was explained.  There has to be room for a sequel –which I look forward to eagerly.   ~~ Catherine Book

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