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Hour of the Witch
Cover of Hour of the Witch
Hour of the Witch
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the acclaimed author of The Flight Attendant: “Historical fiction at its best…. The book is a thriller in structure, and a real page-turner, the ending both unexpected and satisfying” (Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander series, The Washington Post).

A
young Puritan woman—faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soulplots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive novel of historical suspense.


Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary's hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life.

But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary—a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony—soon becomes herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary's garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows.

A twisting, tightly plotted novel of historical suspense from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying story of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the acclaimed author of The Flight Attendant: “Historical fiction at its best…. The book is a thriller in structure, and a real page-turner, the ending both unexpected and satisfying” (Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander series, The Washington Post).

A
young Puritan woman—faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soulplots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive novel of historical suspense.


Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary's hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life.

But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary—a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony—soon becomes herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary's garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows.

A twisting, tightly plotted novel of historical suspense from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying story of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Prologue 

    It was always possible that the Devil was present.

    Certainly, God was watching. And their Savior.

    And so they were never completely alone. Not even when they might wander out toward the mudflats or the salt marshes which, because they all but disappeared at high tide, they called the Back Bay, or they happened to scale the Trimountain—three separate hills, really, Cotton and Sentry and Beacon—they had virtually flattened as they moved the earth to create the jetties and wharves and foundations for the warehouses. Not even along the narrow neck that led to the mainland, or when they were in the woods (most definitely not when they were in the woods) on the far side of the slender spit.

    They knew there was something with them when they were otherwise alone in their small, dark houses—the windows some-times mere slits and often shuttered against the wind and the cold— and a man could write in his diary (his ledger, in essence, in which he would catalog the day’s events and his state of mind in an effort to gauge whether he was among the elect), or a woman could scribble a few lines of poetry about the trees or the rivers or those astonishing sand dunes that rolled in the night like sea waves.

    Sometimes the presence was frightening, especially if there were other indications that the Devil was at hand. But then there were those moments when it was comforting, and they, mere sheep to their divinity, felt the company of their shepherd. It was soothing, reassuring, breathtakingly beautiful.

    Either way, more times than not, the women and men took consolation in the notion that there were explanations for a world that was so clearly inexplicable—and, usually, inexplicable in ways that were horrifying: a shallop with a dozen oarsmen disappearing beneath the water somewhere between the piers and the massive, anchored ship with its barrels of seasonings, its containers of gun-powder, its crates of pewter and porcelain and pillowbeers. That shallop vanished completely. One moment, sailors on the docks in the harbor could see it plainly. But then the clouds rolled in and the rains began, and the boat never emerged from the froth and the foam, and the bodies never were found.

    Never.

    Or that farmer who was gored through the stomach by a bull and took three days, every moment of which he was in agony, to die in his bedstead. How do you explain that? By the end of the ordeal, the feathers and cornhusks in the great bag beneath him were as red as the linen in which they were wrapped. Never had it taken a man so long to bleed out.

    Three days. A number of biblical import.

    But, still. Still.

    How do you explain a husband who will break his wife’s leg with a fireplace poker, and then chain her around the waist to the plow so she can’t leave his property? And who then goes away? The woman waited a full day before she began to cry out.

    How do you explain hurricanes that suck whole wharves into the sea, fires that spread from the hearth to the house and leave behind nothing but two blackened chimneys, how do you explain droughts and famines and floods? How do you explain babies who die and children who die and, yes, even old people who die?

    Never did they ask the question Why me? In truth, they never even asked the more reasonable question Why anyone? Because they knew. They knew what was out there in the wilds, and what was inside them that was, arguably, wilder still. Though good works could not in themselves change a thing—original sin was no fiction, predestination no fable—they might be a sign. A...
About the Author-
  • CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of twenty-two books, including The Red Lotus, Midwives, and The Flight Attendant, which is an HBO Max limited series starring Kaley Cuoco. His other books include The Guest Room; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast; and The Double Bind. His novels Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers were made into movies, and his work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. He is also a playwright (Wingspan and Midwives). He lives in Vermont and can be found at chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, and Goodreads, @chrisbohjalian.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2021
    A Puritan wife shocks her community and risks her life to file for divorce in 1662 Boston. For more than five years, Mary, age 24, has been married to Thomas, 45, a prosperous miller. Thomas has been physically and sexually abusive, always taking care that there are no witnesses. He castigates Mary's intelligence, telling her she has "white meat" for brains. The marriage is childless, drawing community suspicion to Mary. When she can't hide bruises on her face, she lies about their provenance. The behavior, she tells herself, only occurs when Thomas is "drink-drunk." The coverup continues until, cold sober, Thomas drives a fork into Mary's hand, breaking bones. She flees to her parents' home and files for divorce, which is allowed but only if grounds can be proven. Forks are a major motif: Not merely newfangled "cutlery" which Mary's father, a shipping entrepreneur, hopes to profit from importing, but miniature pitchforks viewed by the Puritans as "Devil's tines." The forks, as well as other clues--a mysterious pestle, a pentagram etched on a door frame--are used to counter Mary's compelling, but unwitnessed, claims of cruelty with insinuations of witchcraft. Divorce denied, Mary must return to the marital home and resort to ever more drastic expedients in her quest for freedom. Mary comes from privilege, and her parents clearly care about her. (Unlike the divorce magistrates, they don't believe she injured her hand by falling on a tea kettle spout.) That they allow her return to Thomas to avoid witchcraft charges defies plausibility--death at Thomas' hands seems a more immediate prospect, and her family wealth affords many other options. The charges come anyway--timed for maximum melodrama. The language, salted liberally with thee and thou, feels period-authentic. The colonists' impact on nearby Native tribes is not Bohjalian's primary concern here, but the Hobson's choice facing women in Puritan society is starkly delineated. Illustrates how rough justice can get when religion and institutional sexism are in the mix.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    March 15, 2021
    Someone is out to get Mary Deerfield, and in mid-seventeenth-century Boston, that's not hard to do. It's a pious city, and in nearby towns, most notoriously Salem, compassionate, enviable women are easy targets. Twentysomething Mary fits the bill, but she also has a brute of a husband, a devious servant, and suspicious neighbors. The comely Mary, daughter of a prosperous merchant, is miller Thomas Deerfield's second wife. Twice her age, he is a bully and a drunk, physically and emotionally abusive. The berating and beatings are constants, carefully done out of sight until the violence escalates, leading Mary to petition for a rare divorce. The case fails, but Mary is determined to escape this perilous relationship. Yet before she can carry out a new plan, her actions and attitudes earn her the dreaded charge of "witch," with a sham trial and noose already prepared. Throughout Bohjalian's prolific career, he has rewarded readers with indelibly drawn female protagonists, and the formidable yet vulnerable Mary Deerfield is a worthy addition to the canon. Conjuring up specters of #MeToo recriminations and social media shaming, there are twenty-first-century parallels to Bohjalian's atmospheric Puritan milieu, and his trademark extensive research pays off in this authentic portrait of courage in the face of society's worst impulses.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Bohjalian is a perennial favorite, and this Salem Witch Hunt drama has a special magnetism.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 2, 2021

    Mary Deerfield, a young Puritan woman, finds herself in a very precarious situation, having to battle the rigorous demands of her religion and the politics of life in 17th-century Boston. Her husband, Thomas, abuses her. When the abuse escalates, she petitions for divorce, but Mary is met with the expected pushback from a religious society that takes such inquiries very seriously. Meanwhile, three-pronged forks, which are new to Boston and viewed by the Puritans as devil's tools, are found planted in her yard. This leads to accusations of witchcraft, which further endangers Mary's life. VERDICT Bohjalian's (Midwives) historical novel is full of twists and turns. Though not a typical suspense novel, the story has many of the page-turning plot lines of a thriller, and is sure to keep readers enthralled. Though it's set in the 1600s, Mary's story resonates today, as it addresses the role religious and societal expectations can play in the lives of individuals. A must-read and highly recommended. --Kristen Calvert, Dallas P.L., TX

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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