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WITCH WAY TO MURDER
by Shirley Damsgaard
Avon, August 2005
304 pages
$6.99
ISBN: 0060793481


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ophelia Jensen is a librarian in a small Iowa community. She could just as well have been the postmaster. Her undeniable gifts are what set her apart from the rest of the townsfolk, gifts Ophelia tries very hard to keep private.

But to strangers she shows other attributes. For a librarian is, after all, supposed to be helpful to the public. However, this one seems standoffish and hard to get to know. It turns out there are reasons buried in her past, reasons that have sent her scurrying away from a good job to a small town where she hopes to find a sort of shelter from her personal storm.

But then, as a rash of relatively petty crimes afflicts the town, a stranger who seems to ask many questions but answers few arrives on the scene. He seems to be fascinated with local crime and with many of the townspeople, including Ophelia. But he seems to have no background and a problematic future.

The novel really operates at two levels; on one, Ophelia tries to help the local sheriff figure out what is behind the sudden rise in thefts of chemicals from farmers, and the break-in and fire at the local newspaper. Then, on another level, readers become interested in Ophelia's background and her slightly off-kilter attitudes, particularly toward men in town. Is it only that she's embarrassed by her grandmother's deep interest in the paranormal, or is something else going on?

Damsgaard does a good job of hooking readers into both plot lines and judiciously parceling out clues throughout the book. The pace is sedate and you won't find any great action scenes here, but that's all right, this novel is much more in the traditional puzzle-solving tradition of the mystery novel. The dialogue is real and I like the way the author treats Ophelia's 'special gifts.'

I also like the fact that Damsgaard doesn't take the easy and occasionally tired way of resolving some of the loose threads in the novel. While the central crime is concluded in a logical and satisfactory way, the author provides real dimension to Ophelia by making some of her judgments about people way off base. Shirley Damsgaard demonstrates strong story-telling skills. I look forward to more about librarian Ophelia.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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