Though Chris Bohjalian’s newest offering is set in Boston in 1662, its theme is timely. Readers are certain to have sympathy for the main character, a woman badly abused by her husband.
“Hour of the Witch” is engrossing from the get-go, as we meet 24-year-old Mary Deerfield. Her cruel, overbearing husband is often “drink-drunk”, crafty enough to mask his mistreatment, even from Catherine, the couple’s servant. Mary secrets her bruises too, pulling down her coif to hide evidence from yet another beating.
Mary comes to the Puritan colony from England, arriving in the New World with her parents, her father the owner of a ship that regularly makes deliveries to the United States and other locales. Young and inexperienced, Mary believes she’ll have a good life with Thomas, age 45, a recent widower, and a well-to-do miller by trade.
Mary bears her husband’s cruelty knowing it’s expected because Puritan women have few rights and divorce would require a trial. Imprisoned by her lot in life, Mary escapes in daydreams and thoughts of a young man she’s met on walks to the wharves. Of course Thomas is insanely jealous and questions her outings, name calling and threatening her.
Further complications arise when Mary discovers forks and a trestle on their property. She has no idea who put them there, but knows that the forks are considered a tool of evil, “Devil’s tines,” and if a woman is found with them she could be considered a witch. Sadly, the forks are used by a real-life devil, her husband who drives one through Mary’s hand—an act that becomes the impetus for Mary to take action, realizing her husband might actually kill her as his abuse intensifies.
The mystery of who’s behind the forks and trestle, and other devilish symbols placed in the couple’s home, isn’t revealed until the breathtaking, albeit improbable, conclusion of a book that’s sure to be another bestseller for Bohjalian. The prolific author proves once again he knows how to tell a story that keeps the pages turning.