It’s our pleasure to introduce you to New York Times bestselling author and regular Writer Unboxed contributor Brunonia Barry’s latest novel. The Fifth Petal will make its debut on January 24th. Brunonia’s novel is already making waves. It is a January 2017 Library Reads Selection, a February 2017 Indie Next Pick, and made Boston Magazine’s “The Must List.” Congratulations, Brunonia, and thank you for agreeing to join us for an interview today!
“…The superlative Barry (The Lace Reader, 2008; The Map of True Places, 2010) creates a vividly eerie, time-bending landscape that stretches back and forth between the Salem witch trials, the Goddess Murders, and the present-day mystery. Barry fans will welcome the return of beloved characters and the introduction of new ones into a contemporary Salem appropriately fraught with remnants and reminders of its dark and twisted history. This spooky, multilayered medley of mysteries is sure to be a bestseller.”— Margaret Flanagan, Booklist Starred Review
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night in 2014, Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, husband to gifted lace reading psychic, Towner Whitney, wonders if there is a connection to Salem’s most famous cold case, a triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, had their throats slashed on Halloween night in 1989. As he investigates this dark chapter of Salem’s past, he finds unexpected help in Callie Cahill, the now-grown daughter of one of the victims. Neither Callie nor Rafferty thinks that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, once a respected scholar who now suffers from mental illness, is guilty of the murders as many of Salem’s citizens have come to believe. But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And can Callie and Rafferty find the real killer without becoming victims themselves?
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
The Fifth Petal is the story of a modern-day Salem witch hunt.There were no witches in Salem in 1692, but they thrive here now in great numbers, finding the city a safe shelter, not in spite of our dark history but largely because of it. Neo-witches from all over the world have relocated to Salem, and their ubiquity provides an ever-present backdrop for our city’s tourism industry,especially at Halloween when our population of just over 40,000 swells to almost 3,000. It’s an odd mix of twenty-something costumed partiers, families with strollers and Golden Retrievers, bloodied and scary monsters, and a sprinkling of religious zealots who make an annual pilgrimage in an attempt to save the souls of any and all they can. I’m often uneasy walking through these diverse crowds, because I find myself wondering if the whole thing could happen again. As someone who has both accused and accusers hanging from my family tree, I am haunted by the generational guilt many of us feel about what happened here. The truth is, Salem, having learned history’s lesson, is probably the least likely place to initiate another witch-hunt, at least not in the same way. But there are many forms of hysteria, and fear of the “other” has seldom been as rampant as it is today. So with this book, I wanted to ask: What if it did happen again? Who would be targeted now? And why?
Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
Each of my characters is “other” in some way. Both Callie and Rose survived the complex trauma of the triple homicide. Callie is plagued by ominous, frightening visions that she can’t control or understand. Both Rose and Callie are obsessed with finding the killer, but Rose’s mental state makes her ill-equipped to hunt down a murderer and often puts her directly in harm’s way. Rafferty is a recovering alcoholic who left his job as a New York City detective for what he believed would be a simpler way of living, only to find that quotidian life in Salem is far from simple, and that the thing he was really trying to escape was himself. Towner Whitney, from my first book, “The Lace Reader,” has dedicated herself to helping victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, as a way to heal the wounds of her past, but it’s a difficult task. The city itself is a character undergoing significant changes, from a sleepy seaport and aging industrial city to a tourist destination with a real estate boom that is threatening some of Salem’s less affluent citizens and the city’s diversity as a result. Salem’s elite, who would just as soon see all these murder investigations go quietly away, struggle with justifying their exploitation of the city’s mass murder history versus protecting real estate prices and collecting tourist dollars.
Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?