Jane Stanton Hitchcock : The Witches' Hammer : Book Review



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If you love to read mysteries that combine a touch of the supernatural and are historically and factually based, The Witchesí Hammer by Jane Stanton Hitchcock is definitely one youíll want to add to you reading list. Itís got elements that are the ingredients of many of todayís best-selling books, like conspiracy theories about the role of the Knights Templar in history, secret codes that could lead to vast fortunes, sinister Nazis, and the misogynism of the Catholic Church in its depiction of women as lustful and sinful beings whose goal is to corrupt man and lead him, in turn, into sin. I think this novel will probably (and should) join the current list of best sellers because it is not overly formulaic in its use of the afore-mentioned themes and is an engrossing suspenseful page-turner of a read.

The heroine of the novel is Beatrice OíConnell, named by her book-collecting father after the love of Danteís life whom he immortalized in The Divine Comedy. I was already hooked just from reading about that, as I like Danteís writing very much, and the book is one book lovers (bibliophiles) will appreciate, containing several literary references. Just as the Inferno and the rest of The Divine Comedy is concerned with Heaven, Hell, sin, and redemption, so, too, is The Witchesí Hammer.

Beatrice, or Bea as sheís often called in the book, has a falling out with her father, John, when he tells her - to try to make her see the importance and value of forgiveness - of two affairs he had, and of how her mother had forgiven him and had even encouraged the second one to go on. Beaís ex-husband also had cheated on her, leaving her bitter, and she is understandably upset with the news that her father had done the same. He explains why - in the first example, it was early in their marriage, and his wife didnít like to experiment much sexually; in the second, it was more long-term, with a nurse at the hospital where his wife was being treated for cancer. He tells Beatrice he never stopped loving her mom, and their marriage survived and became stronger, despite the affairs.

She later regrets the fight they have, because itís the last time she sees her father alive. Though his huge library is ransacked, and the police think robbery must have been the motive for his being shot to death, Beatrice doesnít notice, at first, anything valuable gone. Then, she realizes that the last book he bought before his death, a grimoire, or book of black magic, is nowhere to be seen. But, she thinks, why should that book have been stolen when there were far more valuable books in the library?

Feeling that thereís more to her fatherís death than that it was a result of a botched robbery attempt, she vows to get revenge on her fatherís killer. Her search leads her to confrontations with members of a little known but powerful group of Catholics called the Defensores Fidei, or the Defenders of the Faith, who want to begin the Inquisition once again and the infamous witch hunts of the past. Theyíve formed the Duarte Institute, ostensibly so that scholars around the world can come and do research on philosophical studies there. Thatís only a front, though, for the real reason they were formed - to bring back the use of a lawbook published in 1486, the Malleus Maleficarum, that was traditionally used by the Inquisition "over the courts in both Catholic and Protestant Christendom," to hunt down witches and solidify papal power.

Hey, if itís a well-written book that involves any of the things Iíve mentioned above, I, personally eat it up - Iím a sucker for them. Just as with any genre or category of book, itís what the author does within the parameters of the genre that either makes it an excellent or mediocre book. Thereís nothing new under the sun, but there are definitely ways to work within the guidelines or parameters and make the writing seem suspenseful and keep the reader interested in the charactersí fates enough to keep on reading, and Jane Stanton Hitchcock is a master at doing this. The Witchesí Hammer is relentless in the suspense it generates, and is a book I highly recommend.



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