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THE WITCHES' HAMMER
by Jane Stanton Hitchcock
HarperCollins, April 2008
400 pages
$7.99
ISBN: 0061284211


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

John O'Connell is a retired surgeon and rare book collector who lives in a townhouse on Beekman Place, near the East River, in New York. His daughter, Beatrice, has moved back in to live with her father after the death of her mother and her divorce from investigative reporter Stephen Carson.

Dr O'Connell has just received a rare book from a patient as a thank-you present. The book is a grimoire, a medieval book of magical knowledge. This one seems to deal mostly with raising the dead. (H.P. Lovecraft's NECRONOMICON is a fictional work of this type.) He asks a rare book dealer in Italy, Giuseppe Antonelli, to come to New York to authenticate the work. Antonelli immediately tries to buy it, but O'Connell does not wish to sell. Beatrice and her father have a small falling-out after Antonelli leaves, and Beatrice storms out of the house.

The next morning, she goes to apologize to her father, but finds his murdered body on the carpet in the library. Many of the books have been roughly thrown from the shelves and are damaged. But, of course, the worst damage is that she was not able to apologize for the quarrel. The only book that seems to be missing is the grimoire.

A well beloved priest wants Beatrice, a good Catholic, to donate the library to a foundation he heads in upstate New York. When she and Stephen visit, she is spooked by the place and puts off the good father. She returns to New York and does some research into the Malleus Maleficarum, or THE HAMMER OF WITCHES, a handbook on how to determine if a woman is a witch and how to kill her. This book, written in the 15th century, is still available in translation on Amazon!

I didn't expect to like this book...I figured it was another DA VINCI CODE clone, but it is more than that. It is a feminist view of the witch burnings of the Inquisition, and of the treatment of women today, which hasn't changed as much as it should have. My only caveat with the novel is that the collectors and dealers smoke around rare books too much. We used to do it, but not any more. Hitchcock has created some interesting characters with interesting hangups. This book was first published in 1994, and this is a welcome re-issue.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, May 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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