Faith and folly vie in mystical murder mystery

Rituals, by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press. 286 pages. Hardcover $24.95, Trade Paper $14.95.

In her eighth Faye Longchamp Mystery, Ms. Evans sets her archaeologist heroine down in a Spiritualist enclave in western New York. Her rather tedious task here is to help professionalize a town museum in fictional Rosebower. She will lend her credentials and industry to assessing the archives and artifacts that have piled up over the years. Faye’s scientific training makes her a skeptic regarding the psychic readings industry that flourishes in Rosebower, but she is curious – as is her recently adopted daughter, seventeen year old Amande, who is assisting her on this assignment. RitualsCover

The big mystery is whether or not all this Spiritualist stuff is simply artful quackery – or is it earnest mass delusion? However, the immediate mystery has to do with the death of Tilda Armistead, the community’s most prominent practitioner of channeling communication with the dead.

Soon after performing an eerie séance that Faye attended, Tilda miraculously escaped from her burning home only to expire soon after from smoke inhalation. Avery, the fire inspector assigned to investigate, feels that the evidence points to arson and probably murder. Indeed, the door to the room Tilda escaped from had been nailed shut just ahead of the conflagration. But who would murder one of the town’s most revered citizens? And with what motive?  And how in the world did Tilda get out of that room?

The cautious, deliberate, and determined fire inspector unofficially teams up with Faye, multiplying the investigative brainpower.

Ennis LeBecque, in a stumbling and suspicious fashion, cares for his great-aunt Sister Momma, a semi-invalid whose herb and root elixirs are in great demand. Ennis is learning the business and building its online presence.  However, he has something at stake that might lead him to doctor his aunt’s medications in ways harmful to her and to patrons like Tilda and Tilda’s sister, Myrna.

Tilda, after all, had been the town council leader and a key property owner controlling land on which a shady entrepreneur, Gilbert Marlowe plans to build an attractive tourism development. Ennis is looking for part of that action, as is Willow, Tilda’s son-in-law and assistant to his wife Dara, who practices the psychic arts in a showy manner that has not been respected by her mother or her Aunt Myrna.

Evans Photo

If Dara believes that she is her mother’s heir, she could have a lot to gain, as could Willow, by inheriting land needed for Marlowe’s project. If Myrna, already a significant landholder, is the heir, then her life may be in jeopardy. Is it a coincidence that her health is deteriorating with alarming speed?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 18, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the Decembr 19 Bonita Springs, Naples, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rituals

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