By John and Vincent DiGiani
Review by Maria Kaestner
Wicks End Salem Mysteries: Shadow over Siri seems like a long title for a long book. Lengthy novels appear to be the norm for today’s reading-crazed teenagers and young adults. Usually, when someone sits down to read a book, he/she decides to read a chapter at a time. However, that is simply not possible when a book has ninety chapters averaging at about five pages each. The authors make it absolutely impossible to only read one chapter at a time. John and Vincent DiGiani encourage each reader to keep going, and keep reading. It’s a clever trick that admittedly, I fell for.
How could I stop at the end of a three- page chapter when my questions from the previous chapters were still not answered? I couldn’t. With the amount of suspense in this book, it actually felt frustrating.
Every character played an important role. The most important is, of course, the protagonist, Siri. A resident of Wicks End, Siri gets herself into trouble trying to solve Salem’s mysteries. It seems Siri happens upon suspicious people and events just by living her life, attending school, hanging with her friends, and accompanying her father on interviews. Siri finds herself in the middle of a mystical and ancient plot proving she is too curious for her own good.
Each piece of the puzzle is revealed cryptically and is equally important to the developing plot. This is very important in an ongoing mystery novel. Even when Siri is stuck and seems to be doing something completely side-plotted and banal like going for coffee or riding on a motorcycle, it is still adding to her mystery. There is truly never a dull moment.
At some point, I felt like there were two stories going on. Many questions were floating in between the words. Every time Siri got one step closer to finding out the secret, another suspicious person, item, or event would surface. I began to wonder if Siri was still in Salem anymore. With all the talk of mummies, Egyptian gods, the eye of horus, Osiris, and elixir of life, I felt like I was watching House of Anubis on Nickelodeon. I couldn’t help but inquire whether this was a Salem witch mystery or an ancient Egyptian curse.
Well, it turned out to be both. I don’t know how, but the two mysteries seemed to fold together and intertwine by the end of the book. And both aspects were intriguing. The authors clearly did their research. As a Massachusetts native, I appreciated the references to Salem’s history. But that wasn’t the only history lesson in the novel. Just like the archeologists mentioned in the mystery, Siri dug for information clearly out of her comprehension and wound up discovering a whole undercover story that was more than she ever imagined.
Even though Siri was the main character and we follow her throughout the story, it didn’t seem to be told in the third person limited. We, as readers, were at times pulled away from Siri and her experiences. We saw what was happening elsewhere in order to experience the entire climactic action plan that Siri cooks up. An interesting choice on the author’s part to have the story centered around Siri but not have her exclusive perspective as our looking glass.
Also, the classic misunderstood “good guy” was played out in this novel. As Siri is a teenager and obviously naive about the serious business that she’s gotten herself into, it was very appropriate to have her mislabel a character as “bad”. In fact, by the end, her original antagonist becomes her closest ally. I was moved by the characters slow revelation and emotional tragedy that becomes him. It forced every reader to rethink this initial label of “villain” and by the end mourn his loss.
As in any mystery novel, there must come the resolution when all questions are answered. It was a very cliche (and I hate that word) choice to have the entire novel explained in a “villain-evil-plot rant.” Most of the entire story’s questions were answered in a short monologue at the end. Even though pretty much every mysterious clue was addressed, that didn’t mean that all was understood. Although Siri heard the speech that supposedly put all suspicions to rest, she had time to rethink it and connect the dots. The readers however, did not. It was a terse ending, leaving the reader no time to process what happens. It was at this point that I had to stop at a chapter break. Although the mystery was resolved, it would have been nice to have some clarifying reflections.
However, the flashback that occurs was simple to grasp. Just before the climactic confrontation in the cellar of an old witch asylum, Siri had a flashback, courtesy of her newfound friend, Ash (whose name is perfect symbolic irony for a man who has lost so much but never dies). This flashback answered questions regarding the situation of many of Siri’s friends and helped pave the road towards uncovering the real mystery. The story within the flashback could stand on its own, and was very easy to follow as it showcased the tragic romance young readers today are all too familiar with. This is why it was such a good reference to go back to when trying to unravel the tangled mystery at the end.
The authors are not frivolous writers; they will make you think. Think about mislabeling good and evil, life and death, ancient mysteries, contemporary society, loyalties versus duties, and the power of a curious mind. This novel particularly reinforces the old saying: Shadows of the past can be felt by the present. They keep you on the edge of your seat, nose to your book or kindle. This is the kind of book that each time it is read, one will pick up something he/she didn’t see before. Therefore, the authors are forcing us to re-read it. If you are a fan of mystery or fantasy, or just love historically driven stories, then Wicks End Salem Mysteries should be on your Amazon wish list.