The Cornerstone—Anne C. Petty

There be spoilers (as it's almost impossible to describe what I liked about the book without revealing some).

Finally, faintly, the banshee’s wail could be heard riding the wind, a keening scree just at the edge of hearing, then louder. Suddenly it was deafening, a sound so painful it could stop the heart, and it seemed to be inside Dee’s own head, as if some raging animal were trapped there and clawing its way out. (15)

The third of the three books I won in the December batch of Librarything Early Reviewers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction supernatural thriller, of sorts. I mean, if you kill someone in such a brutal, bloody, unemotional manner in the first ten pages of the book, you've definitely got my attention. Petty suggests an alternate "ending" for Christopher Marlowe - that he gave his soul to the devil in exchange for ongoing life (via a banshee trapped in a stone to whom he must constantly sacrifice lives).

Branching nicely with Marlowe's revamped story of Faustus, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus, the story begins with the original trapping of the banshee in the cornerstone, by none other than famous historical figure John Dee. John Dee was a trusted scientist in Queen Elizabeth I's court. While involved in the more traditional scientific side, he balanced that with a healthy investigation into the supernatural, especially in the last half of his life. He was also a well-known book collector, which is referenced somewhat briefly in the book. (To learn more about John Dee, and get references to real scholarly information about him, check out his Wiki page.) Little did Dee know, but the witch who helped him to trap the banshee was also consumed by the stone.

Fast forward to relatively current day. We are at a modern-day theatre, which is presenting a version of Marlowe's Faustus. Plucky stage manager (?) Claire has been trying to get more involved, to get a bit of a break from her day job as an EMT. On the first night we meet the theatre crew, a real knife mysteriously replaces the prop knife, and the lead actor, Danny, inadvertently cuts himself. Although she offers to take him to get stitches, the director Kit Bayard (get it? Kit?) takes Danny into his office to tend to his wound. Next rehearsal, Kit tells them all that Danny has decided to leave the show, and the theatre company. There have been lots of suggestions of haunting in the theatre, which is fairly typical of theatre's, really. At first Claire thinks that whatever is haunting the theatre has something to do with Danny's disappearance. And she's not entirely wrong.

Claire seems to be the only one really concerned about Danny's disappearance. She convinces a few of the actors (including practicing Wicca Addie) to help her investigate his disappearance, and explore the much-protected basement.

I did think that the "Kit" continuity there was a bit of a giveaway. Not right away, of course, because your first thought is not, "Well, that's a 400-year-old renowned playwright." But definitely as you get further into the story, it makes the surprises less. However, even given that, this book kept me completely engaged and constantly guessing as to what would happen next. I thought there were some well-grounded, but still surprising, reveals, which was great and impressively accomplished. Really enjoyed it.

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