“History casts a long shadow here,” says Brunonia Barry of Salem, Mass., the town where her family has lived since the 1630s and the place where she has set all three of her novels, the New York Times bestselling The Lace Reader, The Map of True Places, and The Fifth Petal (Crown, Jan. 2017). “Will ‘the guilty until proven innocent’ hysteria that drove Salem’s dark history ever fully disappear, healing the generational guilt that plagues the city to this day? Or will history repeat itself?”
It looks as if history may well repeat itself in The Fifth Petal, a complex brew of otherworldly powers, ancient myths, and a triple homicide. What, thought Barry, would a witch hunt look like in modern-day Salem?
“Though the demons may have evolved, fear of the unknown remains primal, and once we label someone as ‘other,’ we can find excuses for our worst behavior toward them,” Barry says. “We all harbor prejudices we don’t even know we have and in a world of instant sound bites we’re very quick to judge.” In her forthcoming novel, a teenage boy dies mysteriously on Halloween night. Salem police investigate a possible connection between his death and the town’s most notorious cold case, the Goddess Murders, in which three young women—all direct descendants of accused witches—had been slashed to death on Halloween night decades earlier. The woman blamed for their murder but never convicted was a renowned scholar of colonial history and the witch trials. Now, after losing her home and quite possibly her mind, she has become, says Barry, “one of the others” and thus a prime suspect in the boy’s death.
A winter book tour is planned, and fans of The Lace Reader should be delighted that two favorite characters from that novel will return in The Fifth Petal. Det. John Rafferty, now Salem’s chief of police, has married Towner Whitney, the earlier novel’s protagonist. Barry’s excited at the prospect of another tour as “my favorite thing to do is go to indies and speak. I hated it at first,” she admits, “but now you can’t get me off the stage.”
Barry will participate in today’s Library Journal Book and Author Breakfast and be on hand for signing at Table 3 in the Penguin Random House booth (2443), 11 a.m.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.