Chrysler Szarlan’s The Hawley Book of the Dead starts out strong: “On the day I killed my husband, the scent of lilacs startled me awake.” I was excited for a tale full of magic, horror, and suspense, and it does include all these things, but the strength I felt at the beginning did not carry through the rest of the book.
Revelation ‘Reve’ Dyer tells us this story that does begin with her killing her husband, but she was tricked. During their magic show, where she uses some real magic, someone replaced the blank in the prop gun with a real bullet. But Reve’s troubles did not end with her husband’s death. Someone is still hunting Reve and her daughters, so she moves back to where she grew up, Hawley Five Corners, and a large, abandoned family estate that is really more like a small town. At her family’s estate, magical, somewhat creepy things start happening to them, a lot of which is revealed to Reve via The Hawley Book of the Dead, a book that can tell both the past and the future.
This book is part horror, part suspense, and full of family history and secrets, and there are some good things here. My favorite thing was about the strange history of Hawley Five Corners, where decades earlier many children went missing, with one girl coming back after being gone for weeks, believing she was gone for mere hours. I loved this, though the revelation that this girl was Reve’s grandmother was very anticlimactic for me.
Other things were anticlimactic, too, when they had the opportunity to be fabulous. A big part of this story involves Reve searching for her daughters, who go missing just like her grandmother had, and we learn more about the magic in her family’s history as we search for the girls, but it felt incomplete. Reve has powers, her female relatives do, and her youngest daughter does, too, yet magic seems to be dismissed pretty easily by everyone in the book, when one would think it could help find her daughters. It’s like the author couldn’t decide whether to write suspense or fantasy or how to combine them into a cohesive story.
I really liked the idea of The Hawley Book of the Dead, the magic these women hold, and tying their lives to the past, but I don’t think it quite comes together. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. I’m not mad I read it, but I’m not thrilled either. There is potential with this author, though, and I would check out her future work.