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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review - The Seventh Witch

Continuing with the Halloween theme we have a great Amateur Sleuth novel for everyone today.  I have been waiting to read and review this book for just this time of year.  I have read all the books in this series and have always enjoyed them.  So let's travel to hills of North Carolina.

Author:  Shirley Damsgaard

Copyright:  Jan 2010 (Avon) 288 pgs

Series:  7th in Ophelia and Abby Mysteries

Sensuality:  Mild romance

Mystery Sub-genre:  Paranormal Amateur Sleuth

Main Character:  Ophelia Jensen, Summerset Iowa librarian with psychic powers and her grandmother Abby who is descended from a long line of witches

Setting:  Modern day, hills of North Carolina

Obtained Through:  Purchased my own copy

This book leaves small Summerset Iowa behind for the hill country of North Carolina as Ophelia, her adopted medium daughter Tatiana (Tink), and Abby travel to the family roost for Great Aunt Mary's one hundredth birthday celebration.  Great Aunt Mary is the iron-fisted matriarch of the family who scared Ophelia in her youth with her sternness.  But shortly after arriving a snake is discovered in Abby's bedroom that zones in on Abby.  It becomes clear that a fifty-some-year-old feud with the neighboring Doran family has been stoked by Abby's return.  Apparently the Doran family has gained a reputation in the hills as being dangerous witches you don't want to cross if you value your or your family's health.

Ophelia, never one to back down from a bully starts asking questions about what started the feud and why one parcel of family land was given to the Dorans.  That particular piece of land has a stone circle, called the Seven Sisters, similar to Stonehenge, that probably dates back to early Native Americans.  But nobody in the family wants to dig up the past or rock the strained "truce" with the Dorans.  Then a man who Ophelia witnessed argue with Sharon Doran is found dead and Ophelia is on the case.  Ophelia keeps digging and the stakes keep getting raised. This book has your classic feud only between powerful witch families.
"Hush, Granny."  The younger woman stroked her grandmother's gnarled hand.  "I won't fail...I promise."  The dim light reflected in her eyes, turning them black, and the shadow of her kneeling body seemed to grow as if the spirit fleeing the old woman's invaded hers.  "They'll pay..."  Her voice trailed away while the ticking of the clock filled the room.  "They'll pay with blood."

At his niece's words, his mother's eyes drifted shut.  One last breath and her chest stilled forever.

His niece stood, placed a soft kiss on his mother's wrinkled cheek, and quietly crossed the room to the dresser.  Taking a shawl, she draped it across the old wavy mirror hanging on the wall.  Then she opened the glass door of the clock and stopped the swinging pendulum.  A heavy silence suddenly fell upon the room.  she turned, and with one last look at the quiet form lying in the double bed, she marched out the door.
Most of the series regulars are in this book, except Ophelia's best friend Darci who only gets a cameo appearance in a phone call.  Even the potential romantic interest, Ethan is back.  This book explores Abby's Appalachian roots and grounds Ophelia (and the reader) in her rich legacy.  I was delighted to have Ophelia's mom and dad throughout the book who are the only non-magical characters.  Their interactions with Tink were a nice counterweight for the otherwise serious tone.  I enjoyed their characters as well as the colorful cast of country relations that populate the landscape.  Each character was well drawn and the setting was  richly cast so I felt like I was in the isolated backwoods of North Carolina.

The plot took a standard idea of a family feud and built a captivating story.  There were a few areas that could have been further developed but weren't, some missed opportunities.  Which is easy for a "Monday Morning Quarterback" who isn't writing it, but I would have truly enjoyed some of the smaller story ideas utilized further.  I am always pleased when Ophelia uses her powers, but it didn't happen in this story.  She digs information up and confronts accepted thinking.  But in the climax where I was hoping for her to tap into her magical self, she doesn't.  The Seven Sisters stone circle was a great element that I would have enjoyed a parting progress report on in the wrap up, but no luck there.  These are all "nice to have" comments that don't necessarily detract from the story - they just would have been icing.

The plot was solid enough to carry the reader through to the end, and even though the reader sees what is happening before Ophelia, that is how I think it was meant to be for suspense.  Like watching a thriller movie and knowing the character just should not open that door!  The witch-magic element is low key compared to the Hollywood influenced books, which gives it a bit more realistic touch and keeps the "horror movie" factor down.  Bottom line, this is an enjoyable read that has well defined characters and setting as its strongest points.

I enjoyed this book as I have the rest of the series and I suspect that some of you may enjoy it as well.

Now for a classic Southern recipe RED EYE GRAVY that was mentioned in the story.


  • Country ham
  • Boiling black coffee
  • Brown sugar to taste (optional)


Red-eye gravy, requires first a good, well-cured country ham.

Take a slice of uncooked ham with most or much of the fat left on. Fry the ham in its own fat until nicely browned on both sides. When it is cooked, transfer the ham to a warm platter and add boiling black coffee  to the skillet, scraping to dissolve the particles that cling to the bottom and sides.

That is red-eye gravy, which you pour over the ham and serve.

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