In The Air Tonight by Lori HandelandReligion as a human phenomenon is as riddled through with potential for both good and evil as any other phenomenon. — Richard John Neuhaus

The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding. — Albert Camus

Ignorance. Illiteracy. Hubris and insecurity, mad obsession. Once upon a time, long ago, in the bad, ignorant, evil times of King James and his Danish queen, there was a great storm. James, an ignorant, religious fool, thought to himself, “Such a storm can only have been caused by witchcraft!” And in his ignorance and fear, he called to himself Roland McHugh, witch hunter, who he placed in charge of a secret society, known as Venatores Mali – Hunters of Evil. And from those savage beginnings there began an age of slaughter, of blood and death of innocents such as hearkened to war. And Roland McHugh spread his evil across Europe, spraying blood and hatred in his path. . . Roland McHugh – who, according to his Wikipedia entry, “had burned more witches than anyone in history.” (My words, not the author’s)

Ignorance. It was, of course, a filthy, superstitious time – a time when the Christian church was doing its best to wipe out any other religion, subsuming beliefs, co-opting holidays and celebrations, changing peaceful pagan ritual instruments into Christian tools of torture. And what better victims than those who healed the sick, assisted the elderly and weak, assisted in the birth of children, and stayed by the dying on their way to wherever souls travel? Who worshiped outside, under the stars and moon, often led by women, instead of in a cathedral, led by men – men who wanted to control everything from medicine to beliefs to (most importantly) wealth? What else to do but declare them evil, devil worshipers, monsters who should be slaughtered, burned at the stake, pulled apart by horses? Women. Men. Children.

Infants.

McHugh’s wife died in childbirth, McHugh waiting too long to summon the midwife, allowing her to bleed out before help could arrive. There was nothing Prudence Taggart could do to save either wife or child. Witchcraft. Witchcraft, of course, what else could it be? So Prudence, and her husband, Henry, were burned at the stake. But not before they were able to cast a spell – for all that they were goodness and purity, lovers of the world and humanity and nature, they actually were witches – witches of healing, witches of creation and beauty. And as they died, they set a spell in motion, sending their three infant daughters, three days old, far into the future. Far far into the future, where “no one believes in witches any longer.”

But even now, the Venatores Mali have returned, slashing a path of fire and slaughter in their wake. The slaughter of Wiccans. Wiccans – whose one main belief, one true calling and law, is Do No Harm. The murders are horrific, murders of men, women, children. All slaughtered, all burned to some degree. Horrific actions, all carried out in the name of McHugh. Of the Vanatores Mali. Of a god who I would hope would shudder and turn her head away from what is being carried out in her name. But who must, certainly, no longer care, or no longer even watch. Why else such a nightmare of a world?

Raye Larsen is the very definition of a foundling. She was found tossed on the side of a highway, no clothing, no blanket – simply a tiny infant, left beside the road to die. Adopted by the Larsen’s, a good New Bergin, Wisconsin family, Raye never knew who left her by the side of the road. She never knew why she saw ghosts. She did, however, know that her ‘father’ told her ‘mother’ one night, after Raye had once again been caught talking to someone who wasn’t visible, “Take her to a psychiatrist?” my father repeated. “I was thinking of taking her back.” Talk about feelings of inadequacy, of fear, and loneliness, of an incessant need to please. “If I wasn’t “right” I could be returned like a broken chair or a moldy loaf of bread.” What a terrible way to live, always fearful that the only family you have ever known could throw you away like trash. So, she stopped, as best she could, interacting with ghosts.

But now, someone is trying to kill Raye. Someone who has already killed one woman in New Bergin. In fact, they have tried to kill her twice. And when a New Orleans detective, Bobby Doucet, shows up in New Bergin to verify a strange brand on the neck of the first victim, to verify that the serial killer who struck New Orleans a year ago is now killing again, far to the North of NOLA, the deaths fall hard and fast. There are things Raye knows – things she can’t tell Bobby. Bobby, who thinks of anything mystical as, “The dead don’t come back… Anyone who says so is a liar. Probably a thief and a charlatan too.” And as things become more and more tense, more dangerous, Bobby Doucet’s prejudice may just be the death of both of them.

Bobby’s pure, pigheaded stubbornness was the only thing about the book that really irritated me. As you get into the book you realize what caused his disbelief, and you can’t help but hurt for him. But when you get hit over the head several times and still don’t understand that someone is standing behind you hitting you on the head with a 2”x4”, well, I still stayed irritated at him. Then, that’s just me. Honestly, I adored this book. Absolutely adored it. I did it in one sitting (yes, it flippin’ rained again today – downpour, lightning, thunder, the whole nine yards. Oregon wasn’t this wet.) and finished at 2AM. And yes, I have already preordered the next in the series. They are all three up on Amazon (three sisters, three stories – though no one knows where the youngest sister ‘landed’ as of this book.) I love it. Raye is believable in her reactions to everything, the ghosts are awesome, and the Evil just that – believably evil.

Bobby:“How could a seventeenth-century Scottish witch-hunting society kill someone in America in the twenty-first century?

Raye: “There are still Nazis.” “Any society can be revived. For that matter, any one can start a society and slap any name on it that they want. It’s America.”

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a realistic review. Note to the Publisher:
Guys, Really! I never would have picked up the book on my own, based upon the cover art and title. It comes off as a very young Young Adult novel if you simply look at the cover. The title has only a passing reflection of the book contents. “In the Air Tonight” sounds like a Harlequin Romance.  the book is much better than that, and deserves a better title and cover.

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