Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
I was excited to get my hand on this book. I adore Barry’s other novel, The Lace Reader.
The Fifth Petal opens Halloween night with a possible murder. What fun for me to snuggle in bed on a stormy Halloween night and begin this novel! Talk about synchronicity. Then the other bit of synchronicity—that same week I was helping my students analyze The Crucible by Arthur Miller, which, like The Fifth Petal, takes place in Salem and features the witch trials. I was pretty excited.
The Fifth Petal explores ways in which the past affects the present. Tantalizing epitaphs from 17th century Salemites (or Salemians?) commenting on the trials and aftermath open each chapter. Present-day Salem is full of real witches…who knew? who ply their trade via gift shops and palm readings. As you can imagine, Halloween is a nightmare for the local police.
Speaking of police, the book begins with the lovable police chief John Rafferty from Barry’s previous novel The Lace Reader. It had been so long since I read that book that I’d forgotten his name, but the memories gradually returned to me. You may want to go back and review the first book as I did. And if you haven’t yet read The Lace Reader, I highly recommend that you start with that.
The Fifth Petal is a mystery with a strong romantic element in the women’s fiction genre. In fact, there are two mysteries. One concerns the death of a teen who was bullying elderly Rose Whelan, and the other concerns a 25 year-old triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders.” Callie Cahill has ties to both incidents and to Rose; she was a child witness to the Goddess Murders (one of those killed was her mother) and considers herself a niece to Rose. Callie, like Rafferty’s wife Towner, possesses the ability to foresee events though she doesn’t always understand what she envisions.
Callie has come back to town after a long absence and aids the police chief in uncovering the truth of the past. At the same time, she gradually awakens to a future that includes love.
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Fifth Petal. I loved the way the author wove the petal motif (imprinted on Callie’s hand during the Goddess Murders) throughout the novel with both its Christian and pagan implications and all the attendant questions. The plot held my interest (though witches do not fascinate me to the extent that ghosts or psychics do), and the plot definitely gathered momentum in the second half of the book, which kept me up past my bedtime. However, the first third of the novel dragged a bit and could have been tightened. For instance, no less than three times in the first 15% the narrator mentions that Rose Whelan was once a renowned historian with an emphasis on mythology. I really did get that the first time. The greatest drawback for me, though, is that The Fifth Petal lacks the luminous prose of The Lace Reader.
I received an Advance Reading Copy from Netgalley.