When the main characters in these two novels return to their hometowns after long absences, mysteries past and present collide.
In Jackal, 30-something Black woman Liz Rocher reluctantly returns to her childhood home for the wedding of her longtime friend Melissa Parker. While she’s overjoyed at Mel’s newfound happiness and upcoming marriage, she’s less than enthusiastic about her return to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains that immediately rekindles haunting memories.
Years ago, Keisha Woodson, one of Liz’s only Black friends, disappeared after a party in the woods. She was discovered dead, her heart ripped from her chest. Police were quick to close the book on the case, concluding that Keisha died from exposure and that her body was ravaged by a bear. But Liz has always had doubts. When Mel’s daughter, Caroline, also goes missing, Liz launches an investigation into the other Black children who have disappeared over the years. As suspicion, racial tension and even irrational fears of a legendary creature in the woods grow, Liz desperately tries to discover the truth and save Caroline before it’s too late.
In her debut novel, Erin E. Adams transcends the typical hometown mystery with an effective blend of social and supernatural terrors that build in intensity and mystique throughout. Liz’s first-person narration accentuates the emotional stakes of what’s happening in Johnstown, drawing readers in as they sympathize with her plight.
The Witch in the Well
Norwegian author Camilla Bruce’s The Witch in the Well revolves around popular spirituality influencer Elena Clover, whose return to her hometown (referred to only as F”) ignites a feud with her former childhood friend Cathy over their town’s local legend, the titular witch.
Cathy had been researching and blogging for years about Ilsbeth Clark, who was accused of being a witch, then arrested and tried for the deaths of numerous children in 1862. Ilsbeth was eventually acquitted, but believing the court made a mistake, the townsfolk threw her in the local well and drowned her.
Elena, who believes that each person has a voice in their head that can converse with their soul, is convinced that Ilsbeth is that voice for her. She returns to F” to write her next book about Ilsbeth, which prompts Cathy to exact a series of petty retaliations.
The book begins with an open letter to the community from Cathy, who contends that she has been wrongly implicated in Elena’s death. Bruce, who earned accolades for her previous thriller You Let Me In, expertly unravels the trio’s stories, jumping back and forth in time via Elena’s journal, Cathy’s blogs and Ilsbeth’s own archived accounts. The Witch in the Well is a compelling, creepy story of angst, obsessions and lost friendship.