cover image Scarlet Widow

Scarlet Widow

Graham Masterton. Head of Zeus (IPG, dist.), $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-78497-629

Set in the 1750s, this middling series launch from Edgar-finalist Masterton (Trauma) has some clever touches, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. After a slow start, apothecary Beatrice Scarlet leaves England for New Hampshire with her new minister husband, Francis, only to find that the community he’s serving has been plagued by a series of baffling deaths. First, five pigs are found dead, with no obvious cause; broken pieces of mirrors placed on the animals’ tongues suggest a Satanic ceremony, according to Francis. Fears of witchcraft escalate when the killer moves on to claim multiple human lives, including those of three enslaved African men, who are burned to death and hung from a barn’s rafters, and a white man, whose body is dissolved in vitriol. Beatrice is sure there’s a rational explanation for the killings, despite the discovery of cloven hoofprints, which her neighbors believe were made by the devil himself. The means by which she identifies the killer may disappoint some readers. [em](Sept.) [/em]