First of all, the cover is pretty amazing. Just absolutely beautiful, and certainly echoes the feel of the story. Even if I hadn't been aware of this novel, if I'd been in a bookstore I would have picked it up just because of the cover.
So, on with the review. This story picks up in late 2014 in Salem, MA. There had been a previous unsolved crime that had happened on Halloween night in 1989 that left three young women dead, a respected scholar crazy, and the young daughter of one of the victims traumatized. Rose, the respected scholar of Salem's witch trials, wanders the streets of Salem, talking to trees and muttering about the banshee that she contains within her to keep it from killing other townspeople. Callie, the young girl, is now a woman who is a musical therapist with a gift for using singing bowls to help heal people. She remembers a bit of that night, but thinks Rose is dead (that's what the nuns told her) and has tried to put the trauma out of her life.
Halloween, 2014 finds Rose near her beloved oak trees, listening to them speak. Yes, she can hear the trees talking to her, and they are trying to tell her a story. She is bullied by a group of teenagers, and one ends up dead. Rose is taken to the local hospital, and it's all over the news. Callie, who lives nearby, sees the news report and realizes the woman she considered her Aunt is actually alive. She travels to Salem to visit Rose and try to get answers about that long ago night. Was there really a banshee? Did it kill her mother and her friends? What were they doing out in the woods that night?
Brunonia Barry immerses you in the world of Salem. She blends the historic and tourist aspects of Salem into a place that is a home to generations of families; a mysterious, spooky place that still hasn't forgiven itself for the past, and a place some only see as a gimmick and a tourist trap. It is a complex city steeped in history. Salem is just as much a character in this novel as Callie and Rose. Rafferty and Towner are part of the story; Rafferty is investigating the 1989 cold case, and Towner's friendship with Rose makes things complicated for everyone. Townsfolk begin again to start a witch hunt against Rose, and when they find out who Callie is, they start to whisper about her, too.
There is a lot going on in this novel: mythology, Salem history, family dynamics, and of course a good old murder mystery. Toss in a bit of the paranormal and you've got a multi-layered story that keeps you guessing until the last few chapters. I will say I did feel like I was missing something in the relationship between Towner and Rafferty; it seemed like I was the only one not in on the full story. I think this may have been my inattention and unhappiness with The Lace Reader coming back to haunt me. In any case, it didn't keep me from enjoying the obvious bond between the two. After the hijinks of The Lace Reader I was happy to see them settled and in a good place.
The Fifth Petal will certainly appeal to anyone who likes a bit of mystery, "witchiness", and mythology. Reading about music therapy and singing bowls has peaked my interest, and I may delve into this subject on my own. I'm all for alternative therapies that help heal the physically sick and those who have wounded souls. Fans of Deborah Harkness and Paula Brackston should pick this novel up--you're sure to enjoy it.
Rating: 4/6 for a fascinating look at Salem's history well blended into a modern day tale of murder and deep family issues. Characters that are flawed and damaged, but not hopeless.
Available in hardcover, audio, and e-book.