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JOHN GEERER
Author
The Devil's Kiss
Israel Hands grows up amidst the tumult of the Salem Witch Trials. At the age of twelve he slays a local innkeeper who has accused his father of being in league with the devil. To evade capture Israel absconds to the sea and becomes a preeminent sailor and a ruthless killer. Feared and betrayed by his friend Edward Teach, Israel is crippled for life and driven from the only world he’s ever known. Three hundred years later, retired naval officer Tom Stone buys an old tavern in the seaside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, with the plan to open a B&B. He quickly realizes that he's not alone. An unwelcome guest, a murderous sailor of old, is searching for something hidden within the house, a ring called the Devil's Kiss. With the help of a Marblehead cop, a local witch, and an old navy buddy, Tom combats the forces that threaten both his livelihood and his life.
Reviews
It’s 1999 and widower Tom Stone is ready to start fresh. Widowed and recently retired from a long career in the US Navy, he’s moved to coastal Massachusetts to fulfill his and his wife’s dream of opening a small B&B. As he renovates Stonecroft Inn, the seventeenth-century tavern he purchased just outside of Marblehead, Tom is joined by his old Army buddy, Jake Brean, and his wife, Marie, who plan to help Tom through the tourist season. They soon discover that the Stonecroft Inn has a sordid history rife with murder, pirate plots, and a connection to the Salem Witch Trials. In the ensuing troubles, Tom discovers that the past refuses to be left behind.

The Devil’s Kiss oscillates between Tom’s late-1990s perspective and that of seventeenth-century Israel Hands, a woodcarver-turned-pirate who commits his first murder at age twelve out of a drive for familial vengeance. Israel’s life and the Stonecroft Inn are intimately linked, and these shifting points of view—well marked by chapter headings—illuminate the mystery at the heart of the novel. Like Tom, readers will be unable to shake the eerie feeling that suffuses the inn, but through Geerer’s skillful intermingling of the two timelines they can better understand the connection between past and present. While some may be put off by the unstinting depiction of the bloodthirstiness of privateer life, most will find Israel’s story just as gripping as Tom’s—and surprised at how their histories link together.

The darkness of some details, including some graphic murder scenes, mean that this adventure is best-suited for young adult or older audiences. Geerer’s blend of history and intrigue alongside a truly likable protagonist ensure that fans of ghost stories, cozy mysteries, pirate fiction, and historical drama will find much to love here, including a richly rendered settings and plot twists that will keep readers guessing.

Takeaway: Pirates, puritans, and a modern mystery collide in this delightfully spooky debut.

Great for fans of: Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes, Taci Wilton’s Mrs. Morris series.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B-

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