The Fressingfield Witch by Jacqueline Beard 2017 mystery
This was listed as a thriller but since the killer was unknown, I consider it a mystery. Private Investigator Lawrence Harpham is hired by the church to investigate strange deaths attributed to witchcraft by several of the residents in Fressingfield in 1890 when science is stressed and not superstition. Plenty of characters are introduced who could be the suspect, and the reader follows Lawrence as he interviews and researches the past for answers.
The research takes him into church records dating back to 1639 and follows the misfortunes of Faith Mills, the first witch of Fressingfield. These passages reveal candidly the challenges faced by a woman. Faith was married to a merchant but when he fell on hard times, he killed himself. Left with four children, she moved in with a relative in Fressingfield. Her young daughter is raped, and the wife of her attacker accuses her of bewitching her husband. From there, the hysteria grows and when witch hunters come to town, Faith and her eldest daughter are accused of witchcraft.
Beard shows how the malicious lies and helplessness to defend against the rich and powerful make victims of the innocent. Faith is tortured and forced to confess to protect her children. I found the past history more interesting than the 1890 hysteria, but it is easy to see how the loudest voices prevail.
Lawrence is threatened and his life endangered but he survives. There are more books with him, and one of the characters from this book becomes his partner. I was surprised so I won’t say who it is.
This is a good example of how to weave a story of the historic past into the present and tie it to the current story. Time travel stories try to do the same thing, but in this one, no one travels through time or is a real witch.
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