Rosemary Edghill,
Bell, Book, and Murder
(Forge, 1998)

Welcome to the New York City pagan community. Despite the name on her paychecks and business cards, our tourguide's real name is Bast. In her mundane life, she's a layout artist for Houston Graphics (The Bookie Joint, if it's after hours), but in real life, she's a witch.

Bell, Book, and Murder is an omnibus volume containing the complete text of three Bast novels, Speak Daggers to Her (1994), The Book of Moons (1995) and The Bowl of Night (1996). In the tradition of other "clergy" mysteries (Cadfael, Father Dowling, Sister Fidelma), Bast is a Wiccan priestess.

In the first novel, Speak Daggers to Her, Bast believes that the mysterious death of an acquaintance, Miriam Seabrook, is not from natural causes. Though there are no signs of violence, Bast is convinced that Miriam was murdered. When she learns that the flavor of religion that Miriam was involved with is dedicated to bringing about the end of the world, she is more convinced than ever that Miriam was killed for trying to escape.

And so she sets out to prove it, alienating her own high priestess, who believes that she is overreacting to finding the body, along the way. But Bast must stay true to her ideals, even if it means that she must walk her path alone. And in the end . . . well, I won't mention any more.

The Book of Shadows is part journal, part cookbook, and something that most witches keep, a record of their own spiritual journey, containing spells, rituals, thoughts and struggles. In The Book of Moons, Books of Shadow keep coming up missing. Bast seems to be the only one who realizes how many of the people in the pagan community have lost their Books, but that is perhaps because people have started to call her expecting her to solve their problems.

Although she has no proof, Bast's suspicions settle on one Ned Skelton, who desperately wants to be accepted into a coven. But what does Lothlorien, a bookstore, or the Englishman Stuart Hepburn have to do with it? And why does everyone suddenly seem fascinated with the long dead Mary, Queen of Scots?

In the third novel, The Bowl of Night, Bast travels to upstate New York with Julian, the manager of the occult bookstore The Snake -- and object of her unrequited lust -- to set up a merchant's booth during Hallowfest, a pagan Halloween celebration. As far as Bast is concerned, things could not be much better. She not only gets to share a cabin with Julian, but she will be seeing many of her friends all in one spot. When they get there, however, Julian spends much of his time alone in the cabin with the door locked. And then Bast finds a dead body in the woods. Not just any body, either, but that of an evangelist who had tried to get the festival shut down for many years, and all the signs point to someone at the festival as the killer. Bast must help the local sheriff's office find the killer before the local citizens decide to take up arms against the pagans at the festival.

In the Bast novels, Rosemary Edghill has given us a strong new heroine. Bast stands up for what she believes is right and follows through on her intentions, despite the personal consequences. Across the course of the three novels, Bast grows and changes. She is not one of the standard static detectives whose character is determined in the first novel and who never changes for fear the readers won't buy the next book in the series.

Edghill writes with a dry wit and delightfully sly humor (keep an eye out for Niceness Wicca), using Bast as an excellent first-person narrator. Bast's opinions on her life, her Craft and the New York pagan community are both sharp and funny and she is the sort of person that everyone would like to have for a friend.

I highly recommend Bell, Book, and Murder. My only regret is that there are no further books in the series.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]



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