The Salem Witch Trials: a sad piece of American history. But it couldn't happen again, right? That is the idea posed by Ed Gorman's novel Rituals. In it, witches are merely regular people (women, of course, men can only be "carriers") who are born with special "secret" powers that bloom after puberty (shades of Carrie) and fizzle out during adulthood only to partially resurrect themselves during old age. Direct descendants of the persecutors of Salem are hunting down the witches' descendants in an attempt to completely destroy them.
Our focus, however, is on a small cache of characters in Hastings Corner. Laura and Abby were best friends who had the power to heal. Separated by their marriages, they managed to stay close. Now Laura is dead, as is Abby's daughter. They both had the power; is there a pattern?
Though probably best known for his rough-and-tumble mystery and western characters, Gorman shows off his sensitive side in Rituals. Most of the proceedings are seen from the points of view of the female characters, and even Cam is painted as a really nice guy, someone who was an insensitive jerk and messed up once but is now very understanding. I never doubted the truth of these people, though I take their behaviors into question now and then.
The plot itself depends on a flimsy act of restraint, that is repeatedly reinforced, but that could easily be overcome with a simple lie, solving most if not all of the characters' problems. Also, the ending, unfortunately, takes much too long to actually happen, even though some parts feel rushed, as if some cutting was done and some tightening attempted, but was just not fully successful. Nevertheless, Rituals is immensely readable, especially at the beginning, when I didn't want to put it down.