About the Book:
A young Puritan woman–faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul–plots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive historical thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.
Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. A twisting, tightly plotted thriller from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying novel of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.
This is both a terrific thriller and a wonderful piece of historical fiction. I have not read very much about 17th century America so this story of our early Colonial days riveted me.
Mary Deerfield is from a well-regarded family but is married to a much older husband named Thomas who beats her regularly. The Puritans required everyone to attend church, yet husbands were allowed to “discipline” unruly wives. But when Mary cannot take it any longer and begins to fear for her life, she flees to her parents’ house and requests a divorce.
Mary must walk a fine line in her community as rumor and gossip can literally lead to the death of a woman. Hangings based on accusations and hearsay are the norm. In addition to her husband’s abuse, Mary has not yet had children, which also subjects her to suspicion and mistrust.
The description of everyday life and the blind adherence to religion were fascinating and the author’s meticulous research once again shines though. Much of the central conflict of the book arises out of Mary’s use of a three-pronged fork, which is viewed by the community as “the Devil’s tines” because of their resemblance to a pitchfork. Impossible to believe now but the Puritans viewed those who used them as in league with the Devil.
Each chapter cleverly begins with quotes from two separate trials. The different way in which men and women were treated by the Colonies’ new legal system was frightening and eye-opening. Mary’s word against Thomas was simply not enough, and when Mary’s indentured servant Catherine also testifies as to her belief that Mary was in league with the Devil, the outcome of the divorce petition is all but guaranteed.
‘Hour of the Witch’ paints an enthralling picture of everyday Puritan life. The ending was both surprising and completely satisfying, although I expect nothing less from Chris Bohjalian. Mary Deerfield is a spirited, lively and intelligent protagonist and I enjoyed the way her mind worked.
“I do not know what thou art planning,” he said. “I do not know what thou hast in mind. But thou art contemplating something sinister. I know not what, but — “
“Either I have white meat for a brain or I am plotting evil,” she snapped at him. “Cheese is not known for its perniciousness. Which is it: am I a dullard or a witch?”
This is the third book I have read by Chris Bohjalian, and once again, I devoured it! He has a knack for creating strong, resourceful female protagonists and now we can add Mary Deerfield to that list.
(Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.)