Two hundred years after the Salem witch trials, in the summer of 1892, a grisly new witch hunt is beginning….
When newly appointed Deputy Marshal Archie Lean is called in to investigate a prostitute’s murder in Portland, Maine, he’s surprised to find the body laid out like a pentagram and pinned to the earth with a pitchfork. He’s even more surprised to learn that this death by “sticking” is a traditional method of killing a witch.
Baffled by the ritualized murder scene, Lean secretly enlists the help of historian Helen Prescott and brilliant criminalist Perceval Grey. Distrusted by officials because of his mixed Abenaki Indian ancestry, Grey is even more notorious for combining modern investigative techniques with an almost eerie perceptiveness. Although skeptical of each other’s methods, together the detectives pursue the killer’s trail through postmortems and opium dens, into the spiritualist societies and lunatic asylums of gothic New England.
Before the killer closes in on his final victim, Lean and Grey must decipher the secret pattern to these murders–a pattern hidden within the dark history of the Salem witch trials.
The Truth of All Things is exactly the kind of book I always want to read, but so rarely find. This book has many of my personal interests: witches, New England history, nineteenth-century occultism, a spunky and intelligent special collections/historical society woman, and a countdown to catch a serial killer. Throw in a visit to the local opium den and another to the Danvers State Hospital, and I’m a very happy reader.
There is a lot going on in this book. Racism plays into the plot. Grey is half Native American, and has to continually work in the face of prejudice. There are also clues that point to a Native American being involved with the murders, as well as ties to the prejudices and tensions between the Puritans and the local tribes during the Salem Witch Trials. In the Salem transcripts, the devil is continually referenced as looking like an Indian. Grey has his own personal story of family tragedy, which combined with his exacting and scientific nature, makes him all the more intriguing. Shields’ love of Portland, Maine is also obvious. He revels in the details of the locals and is very successful at tying local history into the story.
I was pleasantly surprised by the characters, which are the real reason this book was such a great read for me. Archie Lean is compelling as the main investigator on the case, but can be overshadowed by Perceval Grey, a man whose demeanor and detective skills are bound to remind readers of Sherlock Holmes. However, for me, the historical society researcher Helen Prescott stole the show. She was witty and spunky, and worked her way into the investigation beautifully. I was very happy to find such a strong female character in a story that could have easily been dominated by the male investigators and the female murder victims. The characters interact with each other beautifully, adding levity to what could have been a book so dark that it would have dragged itself down. Instead, there is witty banter that eases tensions and makes the reader feel like an insider among friends.
The Truth of All Things was pitched to me as appealing to people who enjoyed A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I think it is more similar to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. However, I enjoyed The Truth of All Things more than both of those books. It came across as somehow more intelligent, and with less pretension. Instead of meandering through meals and conversations, every page of this book supports and adds to the plot. The writing is tight, and is therefore easy to read without ever feeling like Shields has written down to his audience. There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, as well, and I was not able to guess the answer to the mystery until the big reveal, which made the book all the more fun to read.
The ending leaves the way open for further adventures with Lean and Grey, and considering how successful Shields’ debut is, I am actually excited to see the development of a future series. The Truth of All Things is one of my favorite books of the year so far.
Excited by my review and want to read it for yourself? Crown was kind enough to give me a copy to giveaway!
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