|The Truth of All Things,|
by Kieran Shields
March 27, 2012
In 1692, five men were executed for the practice of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. One of those men, a Reverend George Burroughs originally of Portland, Maine, was accused not only of witchcraft, but of having murdered his first two wives. Two hundred years later, a madman seeking revenge (or something even more sinister) has claimed Burroughs has their master and is leading the police on a ghost hunt across New England. Deputy Lean, assisted by Perceval Grey—as Holmsian a tribute as there ever were—and American Civil War veteran Dr. Steig, race against time to find the killer, end his spree, and maybe even avert a crisis of epic religious proportions.
All of this makes for an interesting concept, but the execution is a bit fatiguing. At times it can feel like there are too many characters to keep track of their personal lives, lives that are often not fully explained and are left as loose ends once the mystery is solved. This is clearly a well-researched novel, and I love a good Salem Witch Trials reference, but all of that research and all of that information seems to clog up the process. What author Kieran Shields is trying to allude to is in direct competition with the actual plot, making the whole thing feel rather forced.
As a veritable Holmes, Grey’s methods and idiosyncrasies are well-illustrated and entertaining but his background, shrouded in a sort of mystery from the other characters, is also somewhat clouded over for the reader, making him a bit unlikeable. Even Deputy Lean, whose measured demeanor enlivens his character, is somewhat unlikeable when the author neglects to flesh out his background. As a mystery novel, this practice of keeping the reader guessing is acceptable, but you can't have drama without characters who are driven by something more than the plot at hand, and it's that something more that seems to have been forgotten.