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Reviews for The Devil's Kiss

August 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews


John Geerer

Stonecroft Media (488 pp.)


Blackbeard’s sworn enemy refuses to die in this modern-day ghost story.

Tom Stone and his married friends Jake and Marie Brean are renovating the long-abandoned Stonecroft Inn in Salem, Massachusetts, with a view to reopening it as a bed-and-breakfast. When an upstairs window breaks for no obvious reason, they pay it little mind. But when Tom starts seeing apparitions—first in dreams, and then inside the house, it becomes obvious that some maleficent, demonic spirit is less than impressed by their renovation efforts. After a series of increasingly disturbing events, they seek the help of a local artist and witch named Rebecca Putnam, who, they hope, has the measure of the ghost. In a parallel storyline set in the late 17th century, Salem is going through its notorious witch-hunting phase. Young Israel Hands is grimly fascinated by the executions and even tortures prisoners himself, but when his father is imprisoned on suspicion of being “bewitched by Satan,” Israel decides to seek out the person responsible for his father’s situation. He tracks down and murders the guilty party before leaving land to pursue a career as pirate. Over time, he proves himself a ruthless killer and strives to earn a reputation more fearful than even the legendary Blackbeard could have hoped for. But his allegiance with the devil comes with a debt that will take centuries to repay. The historical narrative is a well-paced adventure, featuring detailed and compelling portraits of both Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) and Israel. Comparisons with Stephen King’s style are inevitable, but the incorporation of the Robert Louis Stevenson-esque pirate tale works surprisingly well. The novel as a whole has a brisk, upbeat tone, and even though the violence is sometimes brutal—particularly among the buccaneers—there’s always a sense of playfulness. The ghost story sails perilously close to cliché at times, but this only adds to the charm. Geerer also demonstrates a real knack for cliffhangers. A subplot involving an overweight detective and a crooked banker feels a little unnecessary, though, and the introduction of the good witch Rebecca is less than subtle.

An often gripping chiller with an entertaining pirate yarn thrown in.

April 14, 2021

Booklife Review

It’s 1999 and 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 in Marblehead, Tom is joined by his old Navy buddy, Jake Brean, and his wife, Marie, who plan to help Tom through the tourist season. They soon discover that 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 ensures that fans of ghost stories, cozy mysteries, pirate fiction, and historical drama will find much to love here, including 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, Traci Wilton’s Mrs. Morris series.

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