Chrysler Szarlan’s ‘The Hawley Book of the Dead’

photoReve Dyer and her husband Jeremy run a successful magic act in Vegas – until the day that a bullet trick goes horribly wrong, leaving Jeremy dead and Reve suspected of his murder. But as Reve attempts to comfort her grieving family, burned photographs of her and her three daughters going about their daily lives start to appear. Fearing for their safety, Reve flees home to Hawley Five Corners.

A village abandoned by its inhabitants during the 1920’s, Hawley Five Corners offers a safe haven. But Hawley Five Corners is haunted by secrets, rumours and unnatural disappearances, and being back in the place of her ancestors raises more questions that Reve isn’t yet ready to face. For the women in Reve’s family each possess a magical gift – an ability to find lost things, to heal or in Reve’s case, to disappear, temporarily slipping behind the veil between worlds. The more time that Reve and her daughters spend in the village, the more they start to understand their personal history and the mysterious powers of the Hawley Book of the Dead.

It soon becomes clear that the person behind Jeremy’s murder is still out there, watching and waiting until he strikes again. And when her fifteen year old twins, Grace and Fai, go missing, Reve realises that it’s up to her to embrace her gift and to do everything she can to get them back and to keep her family safe.

This is billed as a supernatural thriller crossover book, but I felt that the magic side of things was underdeveloped. The book focuses on Reve coming to terms with her history and the power that runs through the women in her family. The fact that they are being pursued by an unknown and dangerous enemy is a catalyst to get her to embrace her power to the full, but as she only really comes into her own at the end of the novel, there’s a lot left unexplored and unexplained. As this is part of a planned quartet of books, I assume that more will be made of this later in the series.

Still, this book is brilliantly atmospheric. It’s full of references to long forgotten myths and legends, magical objects, hidden worlds and people long dead. The woods, a village full of empty houses, an abandoned church and an old widow’s walk make for the perfect setting for this novel, creating an air of mystery and intrigue. It’s beautifully written and all of the characters – even the villains – are well rounded and entirely believable.

If you like books like Deborah Harkness’s The Discovery of Witches’ or Stephen Lloyd Jones’ ‘The String Diaries’, you’ll love this. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the next in the series when it’s published.

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