Scarlet Widow by Graham Masterton
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Horror
Content: Strong language, gore, a graphic rape scene, and a mild sex scene between a married couple.
London, 1750: Beatrice Scarlet is the apothecary's daughter. She can mix medicines and herbs to save the lives of her neighbours - but, try as she might, she can't save the lives of her parents. An orphan at just sixteen, Beatrice marries a preacher and emigrates to America.
New Hampshire, 1756: In the farming community where Beatrice now lives, six pigs are found viciously slaughtered, slices of looking-glass embedded in their mouths. According to scripture this is the work of Satan, but Beatrice suspects the hands of men. As she closes in on the killer, she must act quickly to unmask him - or become the next victim herself...
This would have been 3.5 stars, but I'm docking a whole star from this book because of the rape scene, which I will talk about later. When I picked up Scarlet Widow I was expecting something a lot milder; something along the lines of a mild historical mystery. I probably should have done more research, especially on the author before I read this. This is an author who has a history of writing horror and that became obvious as I read this book. There were some very gruesome murders. This is definitely not for the squeamish.
The things I liked about the book were: it kept me glued to it from the first page; the protagonist was a strong, intelligent person; and it kept me guessing throughout most of it.
There was something about the writing style that kept me turning the pages. I found Beatrice to be very likable and intelligent, and her interest in her father's profession was one part of the book I really enjoyed. For a girl back in the 1700s, Bea was an independent thinker. I liked reading about Bea's past with her parents in London, and I found the part with her relatives interesting too, although they were not ideal. That part with her crazy uncle was shocking and weird and personally I think it could have been left out of the book completely as it didn't really seem to fit.
After Bea immigrated to America, the mystery behind what was happening to the townspeople kept me guessing for a long time. Not the part Jonathan Shooks played, that was obvious, but who or what was behind the whole thing. Was Bea right about it being a person behind it all, or were the townspeople right that it was a demon or Satan himself? Logic says that Bea is right, but I've read enough supernatural type books to know that it isn't always the logical answer. And if it is just a person then who? Those were the questions I kept asking myself. The mysterious person in the brown cloak was an easier mystery to figure out. I kept wondering if that person was who was behind the murders. I'm not going to say if it was or not though because of spoilers.
The things I didn't like so much were: the strict puritanical views of most of the people; the superstitious beliefs of most of the people; the lack of any real emotion or romance between Bea and Francis, whom I didn't find very likable at times; and the rape scene.
Superstitious Puritans do not always make for pleasant reading. It's hard to believe that people could be so ignorant and superstitious, but they can- The Salem Witch Trials come to mind. Also the way women were viewed really angered me. Bea was such an intelligent woman and I had a hard time not being disappointed in who she chose to marry. He was a good man, but I think she would have thrived in a less puritanical setting. I felt like her husband Francis was mostly boring, and we really aren't given any reason why she fell in love with him. Their whole courtship is skipped over. Their scenes in bed as husband and wife are just the mechanics with no romance or real emotion. I would have rather they had just been skipped over completely because they didn't add anything to the story. This might sound sexist, but I've yet to read a romance scene written by a man that I've liked.
That brings me to the rape scene. The author couldn't craft a good love scene, but he didn't have a problem writing all the awful details of a rape scene. I don't know if that was done on purpose, or just the way it ended up, but it bothered me. I've read rape scenes in books before and they fit the story and were a part of the plot. They didn't leave me as disturbed as this one did. This rape was really unnecessary and I didn't want to read all the details of it. It bothered me more than the grisly murders did. For the writer to put the main character through that after reading through over 80 percent of the book was just needless. It did nothing for the story and felt like it was just put there for shock value. I kept thinking someone would come and help her, but no one did. Where was the mysterious person in the brown cloak then? I'm sorry if anyone thinks this is a spoiler, but I think potential readers need to know this is in the book. Had I known, I probably wouldn't have read this book.
It turns out that this is the first book in a series. While I would kind of like to know what happens next in Bea's life, I'm not sure if I can go there again. The rape scene just tainted the whole reading experience for me.
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