Madam by Phoebe Wynne

This place is all about traditions, honor, rules…which means what? Turning a blind eye when things go wrong? p. 166

The girls at Caldonbrae Hall have a “strange ugly destiny.” Rose doesn’t know this right away, but she senses that something is wrong from the moment she is hired as a new Madam. All the female teachers are addressed as Madam, the males as Sir. But perhaps that is one of the least innocuous rules that are enforced at this strange school.

Rose teaches Classics, and she gradually pulls her class of girls into the fascinating stories of mythology: Diana, Daphne, Medea (and even Lucretia, who ironically enough is featured in my last post). In a way, this is a fitting subject for the girls to study, for their lives are equally subject to cult and ritual practices.

I found myself likening this book to Rebecca, and once again, The Secret History, but sadly it falls far beneath their power. Once again, I have read a book which I had eagerly anticipated that failed to deliver the satisfaction I sought.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides (Book 5 of 20 Books of Summer, and such a disappointment)

I put this on “Hold” at the library even before it was first published; I have great hopes for books touted as being the most anticipated thriller of the season, but by now I should know better. (Gone Girl, I’m speaking to you.)

The Maidens has all the potential for an interesting read. Reminiscent in some ways of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, there are Ancient Greek letters, snippets from Tennyson and Euripides, and quotes written in black ink on the back of postcards left under doors or tucked into the edges of mirrors. There is a privileged society of “maidens”, who dote on Professor Edward Fosca; one by one they are found viciously stabbed to death.

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian


One of the postcards was an image Mariana knew: a painting by Titian – Tarquin and Lucretia…Mariana pulled the postcard away from the board. She turned it over. There, on the back, was a handwritten quotation in black ink. Four lines, in Ancient Greek…Roughly speaking, it says…’The oracles agree: in order to defeat the enemy and save the city…a maiden must be sacrificed – a maiden of noble birth – ‘“

Alex Michaelides points so significantly to Fosca being the murderer, that we know it can’t be him. I plowed through the rather poor writing, and deliberate manipulations, following the group therapist Mariana as she walked the streets of Cambridge where her niece attends. It seems a little bit odd that this therapist inserts herself into solving the series of murders, only annoying the maidens, the professor, the police, and me.

I make it a point never to believe anything written by the New York Times, which said:

Alex Michaelides’s long-awaited next novel, ‘The Maidens,’ is finally here…the premise is enticing and the elements irresistible.” 

The New York Times

Instead, I adhere to Kirkus reviews, with their most succinct summary of all:

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

Kirkus

The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck (translated from the Finnish by Kristian London)


It is a wonder that Max Seeck is able to bring all the layers of this mysterious puzzle into one cohesive piece. As I read, I couldn’t imagine how Jessica Niemi’s life as a police detective could relate to the life she briefly lived in Venice as a young woman: in the arms of Colombano, a handsome and skilled violinist whose dark intentions combined with his amorous ways.

Several women who resemble her, with dark hair and a beautiful face, are slowly being discovered as murdered. The first is the wife of a famous author, who is found dressed in a black evening gown sitting at the dining room table with high-heeled shoes placed by her bare feet. Worst of all, perhaps, is the hideous grin which transforms her face into a macabre mask even in death.

At first, the police department assumes someone is re-enacting all the murders which have occurred in the author’s best selling novels. Indeed, it appears that they follow the descriptions of women being crushed to death, or drowning in icy water. But when strange words in Latin (Malleus Maleficarum) are found transcribed in the snow on a roof, and men with horns appear to Jessica as shadowy creatures in the night, it becomes clear that much more is going on than what had been merely described in the author’s best sellers.

The tension is ever building and suspenseful. Never once could I predict quite where the plot was going, nor did I feel manipulated in its execution. Perhaps most compelling of all is the character Seeck created in his lead detective; she is a heroine who lives in a studio apartment never wishing her colleagues to be aware of the wealth she has, as evidenced within the connecting apartment next door. It is a wealth she inherited at her parents’ demise and has come to terms with as the novel completes.

The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck is published today. You may listen to an excerpt of the opening pages by clicking below. Alternatively, this book can already by found at retailers such as Barnes & Noble.

Max Seeck devotes his time to writing professionally. An avid reader of Nordic noir for personal pleasure, he listens to film scores as he writes. His accolades include the Finnish Whodunit Society’s Debut Thriller of the Year Award 2016. Max Seeck has a background in sales and marketing and loves to promote his works, and is fluent in English and German.