Book Review: Witch Hunt by Cate Conte
By John ValeriJuly 9, 2020
This June, Cate Conte—aka Liz Mugavero—launches a new paranormal mystery series for Kensington with Witch Hunt. As Mugavero, she previously wrote the seven-book Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, which launched with 2013’s Agatha Award-nominated Kneading to Die and concluded with Murder, She Meowed (2019). As Conte, she continues to helm the Cat Café Mysteries for St. Martin’s; the fourth, A Whisker of a Doubt, will be out later this year. Conte lives in Connecticut but comes from the Boston, MA area studied in Salem. She serves on the Sisters in Crime New England Board and is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers’ Association.
Witch Hunt introduces twenty-something protagonist Violent Mooney, who owns The Full Moon, a crystal shop in the idyllic (fictious) town of North Harbor, Connecticut. Violet takes pride in empowering her customers through the use of carefully cultivated healing crystals. But when town councilwoman Carla Fernandez accosts her at the local coffee shop, publicly accusing her of ruining the North Harbor’s wholesome reputation by holding seances and summoning evil spirits—neither of which Violet actually does—she worries that her business may be marked for doom. Things soon worsen when Carla turns up dead, strangled with the very scarf that Violet had been wearing that morning.
Unsurprisingly, the police summon Violet to the station for questioning. When she’s released, it’s to find that her estranged mother, Fiona Ravenstar, and her unknown younger sister, Zoe, have arrived in town to help settle her predicament; how exactly they know of this predicament is yet another point of befuddlement. Violet, still grieving the recent death of her grandmother (and her father before that)—the primary maternal presence in her life since Fiona’s seeming abandonment—is less than thrilled at the unexpected intrusion. So you can imagine how she feels when Fiona reveals that she and Zoe are witches—and that Violet herself possesses mystical powers. But before Violet can fully contemplate the implications of that contention, she must first clear her good name or risk ruination.
Fortunately for her, Carla was intensely disliked in both her personal and professional lives, meaning there are plenty of potential suspects. Unfortunately for her, these possible perpetrators include her boyfriend, her best friend, and a variety of other acquaintances—meaning the stakes are extraordinarily high and the investigation extremely sensitive. While the majority of the narrative is told through Violet’s perspective, there are a few chapters that take place in a parallel realm; these serve to humanize Fiona (because witches have feelings, too!) and provide the background for what will be an ongoing story arc. And animal lovers will be happy to know that Conte doesn’t disappoint on that front; indeed, Violet cohabitates with an orange feline named Monty and also warrants the persistent attention of a—you guessed it—black cat.
Cate Conte casts a winning spell with Witch Hunt, summoning a bit of magic to offset the mysteries and murder at hand. A cozy setting, charming characters, and moments of comic relief all conspire to keep pages the turning; further, the otherworldly elements are handled with subtlety and reverence rather than over-the-toppedness. Consequently, I’m conjuring up a positive prediction for this series: that it will beguile readers for years to come…