I understand that Graham Masterton is already a bestselling horror writer and although this was my first read of his, I was already excited to try out his crime writing too.
Scarlet Widow is a historical crime novel with dashes of horror, which for me made a winning combination. The story centres on Beatrice, an apothecary’s daughter living in London. Her father has taught her a lot and so she has an extensive knowledge of medicines, plants and herbs, as well as principles of science from a young age.
Tragedy befalls poor Beatrice and after the death of her mother, her father falls into decline and later passes away too. She later marries a preacher and emigrates to America.
After a while a strange spate of demonic acts befalls the town. It starts with the death of Beatrice’s pigs; all found slaughtered with shards of broken mirror in their mouths. Soon, across the farms, it is not only livestock which come under threat but people too.
Being such a religious and superstitious community, the work of Satan and demons are soon blamed, with accusations of witchcraft and sinners cast around town. But with her extensive knowledge of plants and science, Beatrice suspects that the culprit is much more human than widely assumed and must work quickly to uncover the perpetrator before she becomes the next victim herself.
Beatrice is a very likeable lead. She is clever and caring and goes through so much hardship and yet remains strong and competent throughout. It was interesting to see what her father taught her and how she applied her knowledge of chemistry, botany and other scientific ideas to the crimes in an age where crime scene investigation wasn’t an established study yet.
I love reading about things like alchemy and old-fashioned apothecaries; it puts me in mind of coloured potions, fragrant plants and crude science and so this story had some great inclusions of all those things which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This novel also explores religion against occult beliefs and it doesn’t skimp on the violence or graphic depictions of gore and murder which I also really liked. There was so much mystery and there were some parts that were actually quite tense.
Scarlet Widow is skilfully written and wonderfully unnerving thriller. This is the first in a new series introducing Beatrice Scarlet and I genuinely can’t wait to see what future mysteries are in store for her.