cover image The Mesmerist

The Mesmerist

Caroline Woods. Doubleday, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-55016-1

Woods (The Lunar Housewife) draws on a real crime spree for this excellent historical suspense novel in which three women band together to bring down a serial killer. In 1894 Minneapolis, a spiritualism craze is sweeping through the lower classes and a string of women have died under mysterious circumstances. One morning, a bruised, nonspeaking woman arrives at the Bethany Home for Unwed Mothers and is given the name “Faith” by treasurer Abby Mendenhall, a progressive Quaker and fierce advocate for the institution’s residents. Faith is assigned a room with May, a teen who was driven from home after getting pregnant by a man who wouldn’t marry her. Faith’s muteness soon stirs rumors that she possesses occult powers, which, in the eyes of some Bethany residents, might account for the city’s murders. Tensions mount with news that a brothel owner who employed several Bethany girls has been found dead. When Hal, the handsome suitor courting May, reveals a dark side, she starts to fear he could be the killer, leading her to team up with Faith and Abby to ferret out the truth. Fastidious historical detail, expert suspense, and indelible characterizations combine to make this a certified page-turner. Readers will be up all night. Agent: Shannon Hassan, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Sept.)