Author: Silver Ravenwolf
Trade Paperback, 480 pages
Publication date: October 2000
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I really like a good mystery story, especially those with an occult twist. Like her earlier novel, Beneath a Mountain Moon, Silver Ravenwolf's Murder at Witches' Bluff definitely qualifies as an enjoyable pagan-themed mystery novel.
I picked up this book one evening intending to read just a few pages to see how well it started, then switch to another book I was just about finished with. I was about 75 pages into Murder before I noticed I had read much more than I had intended to and would not have time to finish my other book before I went to bed. This book really sucks you in quickly.
The situation in Murder at Witches' Bluff seems quite straightforward, but there are deep, darker waters churning just below the surface. Siren McKay, a hypnotherapist, returns to her small town home of Cold Springs, Pennsylvania after being accused of killing her husband in New York City. Her alibi proved unshakeable, but many in her hometown consider her a murderer who just barely escaped the death penalty.
She returns to a town plagued again by strange, unexplainable fires. Sets of unexplainable fires have occurred in Cold Springs at intervals of years since the legendary murder of a coven of witches gathered on All Hallows Eve some two hundred years ago. Not only does she return to a troubled, edgy town where many think she is a murderer, but she unknowingly brings trouble with her. Someone has hired a really sick serial killer -- Ravenwolf handles this character well -- to do kill her after finding "the numbers." If this wasn't enough, some of her relatives are involved in something secretive and have been for generations: witchcraft. I don't want to go into much more detail because doing so would ruin a good mystery story.
Siren is a strong character in a book filled with interesting characters, many of whom would be right at home in any small town. That's one of the strong points of this novel. Cold Springs, in spite of all the weird stuff going on around the area, feels like a real small town populated by real small town people.
This novel also has one of the best variations on a "grandmother story" I've ever seen. A "grandmother story" is a tale of how one was initiated in Wicca or Witchcraft by an elderly relative who is, of course, now dead and therefore unable to confirm or deny the truth of the story. Unfortunately, this variation is so good that I expect that some Neo-Pagans will borrow it, modify it slightly, and use it to found their own "ancient" traditions.
While I'm not a fan of much of Silver Ravenwolf's non-fiction, she handles occult mysteries quite well. Murder at Witches' Bluff is an enjoyable read. What more could one ask of a mystery novel? If you like mystery novels with an occult flair, you'll probably enjoy this book as well. I hope Ravenwolf writes another mystery soon.
Reviewed by Randall
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