Poisoned Pen Press: Scottsdale, AZ
The eighth entry in Mary Anna Evans’s splendid mystery series takes archaeologist Faye Longchamp and her daughter Mirande far from their homeland in the Deep South to the bucolic landscapes of western New York State. Samuel Langley, sole proprietor/curator/director of a small historical museum in the town of Rosebower has contracted with Faye to conduct a cultural resources management effort to organize and rationalize the institution’s eclectic collection.
Rosebower is the fictional counterpart to Lily Dale, New York, located not far from Seneca Falls. Lily Dale was best-known as the home to the American Spiritualist movement of the 19th Century and the fictional Rosebower of Ms. Evans’s imagination serves the same purpose. It is a fascinating aspect of American history that western Upstate New York gave birth to a myriad of social movements that included, in addition to Spiritualism, the abolitionist movement, the women’s rights and suffrage movements, the Second Great Awakening of Protestantism, and Joseph Smith and the Mormon religion. In addition to contending with Samuel Langley’s hodge-podge of unfiled documents and undocumented artifacts, Faye and Amande quickly learn to their dismay that the tiny museum features nothing related to Spiritualism or the Suffrage Movement—arguably Rosebower’s most notable historic hallmarks—and to make matters worse, Langley believes he has artifacts that prove beyond doubt that Scandinavian explorers reached America long before Columbus and were responsible for pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Aztecs, Inca, Maya and North American “Moundbuilders,” and further that aliens from space provided the impetus to primitive mankind’s assent to civilization!
While working on the museum project, Faye and Amande become friends with Myrna Armistead, a delightful elderly lady whose family roots go far back in Rosebower history and the Spiritualism of the area. While she claims no “special powers,” she invites Faye and Amande to a séance, or “spiritual reading” that her sister Tilde will be giving. The séance proves to be unsettling to Faye, but not nearly as much as the reading’s aftermath when later the same night Tilde’s house is burned to the ground and she dies of smoke inhalation—but not until she struggles to seek help from Faye. The evidence points to arson—with the secret séance room as the point of the fire’s origin—and Faye and Amande are drawn into the mystery—and the town’s secrets—like moths to the proverbial flame. As they try to untangle the web of mystery surrounding Tilde’s death, they encounter Sister Mama, a “root doctor” steeped in the lore of homeopathic medicine, and her slightly dodgy great nephew, Ennis; Tilde’s daughter Dara and her husband Willow, both of whom are self-proclaimed clairvoyants and magicians; Antonia Caruso, aka “Toni the Astonisher,” a debunker of all things supernatural; and Gilbert Marlowe, a slick real estate developer who has plans for a new and improved Rosebower that some fear will change forever the little town built on Spiritualism.
Rituals is not the best entry in the Faye Longchamp series but it includes enough plot twists and turns to keep mystery buffs satisfied and happy. Ms. Evans admits in her Afterward that she did not (for perfectly understandable reasons) visit upstate New York before writing the novel and perhaps it was this that kept Rosebower from being a fully realized place in my mind’s eye—as opposed to the author’s keen eye for sense of place demonstrated, for instance, in her harsh yet loving description of Neshoba County, Mississippi, in Effigies, or her vivid portrayal of the sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans in Floodgates.
But a Faye Longchamp novel is always a treat and Rituals would make for a perfect stocking stuffer during the upcoming Holidays; and, as always, I look forward with great anticipation to her next adventure. Perhaps she will return to her beloved South and once again be in her element.
Three trowels for the eighth Faye Longchamp mystery.