Eye of the Witch
By Dana Donovan
Copyright © 2009
A phone rings in the middle of the night, and former police detective Tony Marcella knows who will be on the other end. His friend and partner for thirty years on the force, Carlos Rodriguez, is calling Tony because of a case, which isn't really a case and he needs his former partner's help. The women of New Castle are commiting suicide at an alarming rate. Three women in three weeks, and detective Rodriguez doesn't believe the women, who seemingly have everything to live for, killed themselves, but in the case of the most recent suicide, eyewitnesses attest to the fact and the locked door provides the only exit. Tony is inclined to tell Carlos that things may just be as they seem until he finds out the identity of the third victim; someone he knows, one of their own, a cop.
Donovan sets up Eye of the Witch as a locked room murder mystery, where the question of how the murders were committed, especially when it appears they were self inflicted, becomes of equal importance with trying to figure out who committed them. In addition, there is the question of how the victims are linked together. At first glance it doesn't seem likely. Bridget Dean, a lawyer on the rise who just accepted a lucrative partnership with a prestigious law firm. Anna Davalos, a Cuban born waitress who worked in a coffee shop. And Karen Webber, a bright, vivacious cop who had recently transferred to New Castle.
At first the victims seem unrelated, but a little detective work brought to light that Anna Davalos worked in the same building as Bridget Dean and Karen Webber was secretly investigating their deaths. More digging unearthed the fact that all of the women were linked because they attended a parnormal workshop several years prior. And the workshop was through the same paranormal research facility which figured prominently in Tony Marcella's last case before retiring. Bridget and Anna also shared the attentions of lawyer Ricardo Rivera, and the women who at first sight had little in common become entwined with one another by the end of the book, with motives, suspects, and red herrings abounding.
The character I enjoyed the most in the book, was Lilith, the witch of the piece. Lilith is irreverent, sarcastic, and has a single purposed focus. Detective Marcella attempted to nail her for murder during his last case, and in the process became the possessor of the witch's ladder, an object he denied having. Lilith needs the witch's ladder back so she can perform a ceremony and her aim throughout the book it to get Tony to admit that he has it and to coerce him into returning it. Here's a sample of her snarkiness while she goes after what she wants:
“Yes. Nobody in your stinking precinct would tell me where you went or what happened to you.”
“Really? Lilith, I’m touched. I didn’t know you cared so much.”
She made a face as if a sour nut had just come up her throat. “Hardly. You have something I want.”
I straightened up in my seat and pulled the kink from my tie. “Do I? Frankly, I didn’t think I was your type.”
“P—leeease, Detective. I’d sooner sleep with Fidel, over here.” She jabbed her thumb into Carlos’ side, hitting his holstered gun. They turned and looked at each other, equally surprised. “Yeah, you,” she said. “You can just forget about it, my little Copacabana boy. You are already about as close to me as you are ever going to get. So, take a deep breath and savor it.”
As detective Marcella gets further into the heart of the mystery, more ties keep cropping up with his last case, including a tie to Leona Diaz. Leona had been kidnapped the previous year by the Surgeon Stalker and during this time, Tony Marcella learned of her gift of bilocation or out of body experience. The more things tie to his last case, the more Marcella questions his ability to help his ex-partner solve the mystery surrounding the deaths.
Eye of the Witch is a fast paced read, with lots of twists to keep you guessing right up until the end. While there was much about the book I liked, there were also parts I felt could have been done better or cleaned up a bit. Donovan has some structural issues with the text due to changing tenses and some loose ends at the conclusion, meant as red herrings, but I wanted them integrated a little more instead of left hanging. Another issue I had was with the depiction of Marcella's former partner, Carlos Rodriguez. Tony tells us how respected Carlos is, but there are portions of the book where Carlos is characterized as a buffoon who can not think beyond what to next fill his stomach with. Suspension of disbelief was also difficult in some areas of the book, but not in the arena of the supernatural, as one might expect. At the beginning of the book there is a reference to Marcella not having talked to his ex-partner Rodriguez for six or seven months, since he retired after the last big case, but then later the time reference from the last case is referred to as being a year ago. In light of the time frame, whether 6-7 months or just at one year, the changes Donovan depicts as occurring to make Tony feel uncomfortable with a return to police work seem not quite believable.
I saw one of the biggest, brightest, shiniest glass covered buildings New Castle had ever constructed. It wasn’t just a police station; it was an ultra-modern criminal justice center, complete with jails, courtrooms, administration offices and state-of-the-art crime lab. It had everything a small town cop could want. Hell, it had everything a big town cop could want, too. I told Carlos if he threw in a couple of suites, a swimming pool and valet parking, he’d have a five-star resort for law enforcement and could charge for it on weekends. To this, he laughed, and when he took me past the workout center, complete with pool and sauna, I understood why.
“It’s really different here, Tony,” he said. “This facility serves the entire county. We all share resources now."
I felt that it stretched the bounds to believe that such a state-of-the-art building could be constructed from the ground up within that time frame as well as integrating all of the different law enforcement agencies under one roof. But aside from those issues, Eye of the Witch takes you on a wild ride to a thrilling conclusion.
Preview Eye of the Witch here
Originally reviewed for the LL Book Review