Edition 6: Book Review: The Salem Witch Society by K. D. Shields
Reviewed by Damien Smith
The Salem Witch Society is the debut novel from K.D. (Kieran) Shields and it’s a cracker. The book is historical fiction set over several months in 1892 Maine, around the 200th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. A brutal murderer is on the loose and appears to be attempting to recreate some arcane ritual.
The main players (apart from the murderer of course) include: Deputy Archie Lean, the requisite plod on the case; criminal consultant Percival Grey, a sort of half-Native American Sherlock Holmes; Dr Steig, the coroner; and librarian and resident expert on the Salem Witch Trials Helen Prescott. I quite liked the mix of main characters and how they interacted with one another, despite Grey initially grating a little because the real Sherlock Holmes would have been active in London at around the same time period. Each is able to provide a different strength to the investigation and suffer their respective weaknesses.
It only takes a handful of pages for things to take off with the first gruesome murder. Baffling clues continue to present themselves to the investigators who do their very best despite limited forensic means at their disposal. The investigation itself involves unofficial means, necessary due to a backdrop of a mayor who wants the whole murder forgotten and a constabulary who’s M.O. for a typical killing is to round up a likely-looking drunk in the area and beat a confession out of him.
I really enjoyed some of the investigative tools used and liked that the technology was limited to the time period. Telephones were for officials or the very rich only and most long-range communication needed to be done via telegram or message runner, so instantaneous communication (particularly on stakeouts) was next to impossible.
The historical backdrop is a wonderful setting for a deranged witch-obsessed serial killer to stretch their legs in. While the murders themselves are all finally teased out to a satisfactory conclusion, there are enough twists and unresolved threads to facilitate a wonderful sequel.
There aren’t really any weak points to be found here—particularly for lovers of historical fiction and murder mysteries, however some of the murder scenes are quite gruesome. I will personally be keeping an eye out for whatever comes next.
Kieran Shields grew up in Portland, Maine. He graduated from Dartmouth College and the University of Maine School of Law. He continues to reside along the coast of Maine with his wife and two children. This is his first novel.
The Salem Witch Society, by K. D. Shields
Historical Horror Fiction
Publisher: Little Brown Hardbacks, 2012
Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.