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"The Diviner's Tale" by Bradford Morrow

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Well into the worrisome and threatening events of “The Diviner’s Tale,” Nep Brooks, the protagonist’s aged and failing father, tries to cobble together an expression to say everything was fine. “Right as ruin” comes out, and for that moment in the book, proves right enough. Cassandra Brooks, our doubting-but-plucky heroine, dowses people’s property, using the arcane and archaic skills to divine for water and other substances, but when she sights a girl hanged in the forest, our narrative plunges into its gripping and atmospheric cycle of menace.

More thriller than mystery, “The Diviner’s Tale” takes us on Cass’s journey through the thicket of the town’s adverse opinion, her mother’s Christian faith and disapproval, and her adored father’s fading health. The story builds its momentum slowly but surely, through a series of eerie reminisces, harrowing visions in the current day, toward a terrifying climax that we know we should have seen coming. Through it all Cass wavers between following her father’s advice (and diviner’s trade) and adopting a more orthodox life. She even attends church with her mother. But as her twin sons (inchoate diviners themselves) and the reader knows, orthodoxy won’t cure what ails Cassie.

And what ails her occupies considerable space here. At times I wished for a quickening plot, as we toured through her youth, doubts, and bad memories. There are times when Cass's doubts seem over-heavy, like she can't get past her mother's objections, or her father's fake confession of charlatanism. I wanted her to trust her instincts and her special gifts a little more. But as we march toward the climax, the pace at last turns out to be just right, since it gives the story's profound evil to its truly menacing depth. Cass, whose life and hopes alternate between quirky practice and threatening vision, engenders our sympathy, as do the other colorful characters. We pale for the fate of the kidnap victim Cass helps find, and whose trust Cass earns. We also wait with bated breath as even her delightful twin sons are threatened.

Brad Morrow succeeds at those great challenges the thriller writer sets for himself: do we care what happens to the victims, and does the climactic action quicken our pulses? To both questions, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” For the Brooks family, the patriarch, through Cass, down to and including the twin boys, this book is a memorable find, and terrific company in its haunting way.
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