Saturday, November 12, 2016


This was a random library find, and a good one.

It's Portland, Maine, in 1892. Deputy Marshall Archie Lean is called in when a grotesque murder takes place; a prostitute has been found gruesomely stabbed with a pitchfork through her throat and a bloody cross cut into her torso. Bizarre findings around the body point to some sort of ritual, and criminalist Perceval Grey, who is part Native American, is called in to look at the crime scene. He and Grey get along well and team up to find the killer.

This was a pleasant surprise, as the plot is steeped in the Salem Witch Trials, The murderer is obviously attempting some sort of black magic here, but what? The involves fortune tellers and spiritualists, and a medium who does seem to have real powers. Even though I'm a hard-nosed skeptic, I did enjoy how the story straddled the line between the mundane and the mystical.

The addition of supernatural gothic elements to a historical procedural mystery were very entertaining. The characters were also fun; Archie Lean is a father-to-be, rather old-fashioned, but with a sense of humor and of what's wrong and right. Perceval Grey is all science, young, exotic, and sometimes an exasperating stick-in-the-mud. There is a somewhat contrived romance that does take away from the story, but only in a very minor way.

There's a sequel I want to get to, but it seems the Lean and Grey series ended there; I saw a note on the author's page that his publisher had declined on a further story. Let's hope he find some one else to publish it, because I think Shields is on to something here.

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