A respected surgeon and rare book collector is brutally murdered in his elegant Manhattan home, just hours after showing a book dealer the fifteenth-century manual of black magic—a grimoire—he'd received from a grateful patient. Now the healer's blood is everywhere—and only the priceless grimoire is missing.
The horrific death of her beloved father has shattered Beatrice O'Connell's quiet, sane, and orderly world. Only by tracking down the vanished malevolent tome—with its dark spell and salacious illustrations—can she hope to put things right. But the search is leading Beatrice, her ex-husband, and a mysterious occultist into an expanding labyrinth of powerful evils, a tangled web that reaches as far as the Vatican itself. What coveted secrets are hidden in the missing volume that threaten to turn Beatrice into precisely what her unseen and unrelenting enemies are determined to destroy?
Hitchcock, who enjoyed quite a succes d'estime with her first novel, Trick of the Eye, has concocted an odder but perhaps more crowd-pleasing brew her second time out. Beatrice O'Connell, her heroine, is a dutiful Catholic girl whose life is violently changed when her beloved father, a doctor and noted rare-book collector, is found murdered soon after receiving a grimoire (an old book of black magic) from a grateful patient. It soon becomes clear to Bea and to her ex-husband Stephen that book and murder both are part of some wider, nefarious plot; matters are further heated when normally timid Bea begins to discover the sexual wolf within her. The plot eventually expands to embrace a rebirth of the ancient Inquisition; a deadly struggle between freethinking womanhood and a Christianity somewhat to the right of Torquemada; and Bea's need to choose from among not two but three kinds of male admirer. Bea's sensuous mood swings are not always convincing, the climactic pages have her behaving more like a female James Bond than the thoughtful woman introduced earlier and the villain is decidedly over the edge. Still, the novel is never dull, even if it is hard to take it as seriously as Hitchcock, with her bursts of historical scholarship, seems to intend us to.
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This is definitely not one of her usual high society murder mysteries. I was enthralled every time I turned the page. I look forward to reading more novels written like this.