The Diviner's Tale

by Bradford Morrow

In rural upstate New York, a disturbing vision of a hanged girl leads diviner Cassandra Brooks and her family into peril, and conjures ghosts from her own haunted childhood. At once a journey of self-discovery and an unorthodox murder mystery, this is a tale of the fantastic and a family chronicle told by an extraordinary woman.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547758657
  • ISBN-10: 0547758650
  • Pages: 320
  • Publication Date: 03/27/2012
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Author
  • About the Book

    "[A] splendidly written mystery . . . a compelling story. Grade: A" —Cleveland Plain Dealer

    "Subtle, distinctive and well-wrought." —Washington Post

    Hired by a developer to dowse a lonely forested valley in upstate New York, Cassandra Brooks comes upon a girl hanged from a tree. When she returns with authorities, however, the body has vanished, calling into question her sanity—at least until a dazed, mute girl emerges from the woods, alive and eerily reminiscent of Cassandra’s vision of the hanged girl. Increasingly bizarre divinations ensue, leading Cassandra back to a past she thought long behind her, locking her in a mortal chess match with a killer who has returned from the past to haunt her once more.

    "Sublime . . . creates a seamless breathing breathtaking unity of the literary and the suspense novel, detonating the very notion of genre. Riveting, insightful, sentence-by-sentence charged with feeling, it bears us, helpless, with it on its downward journey to illumination." —Peter Straub

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  • Excerpts

    My father, whom I trust as surely as yesterday happened and tomorrow might not, was the first to call me a witch. He meant it in a loving way, but he meant it. In later years, he’d sometimes say it with a defiant touch of pride. —My daughter, the witch.
     I brought this on myself by warning my brother, Christopher, with all the raw certainty of a seven-year-old who believed she could see things hidden from others, not to go to the movies one August evening with his best friend, Ben. He laughed, like any older brother twice his sister’s age would, and said I could take a metaphysical flying leap. I can still picture him, lanky, loose-jointed, tall as a tree to my eyes, wearing his favorite faded baseball jersey untucked over a pair of worn jeans and scuffed brown boots. —Hey, Nutcracker, see you in the afterlife. Turning, he clomped down the porch stairs two steps at a time to the waiting car. I remember lying in long orchard grass in the field beyond our house, listening to the restless crickets scraping their bony legs together, and waiting for the meteors to tell me when the worst had come to pass.
     At first the sky was calm. Just an infinity of cold stars and a few winking planets out in the void, carving their paths through the darkness. Maybe I got it wrong, I hoped. But then so many shooting stars started chasing across the night I couldn’t begin to know which of them had carried my beloved laughing brother away. The crickets stopped their chorus as the whole field sank into silence. I sat up and gasped. How I wished what I saw above me was a great black slate instead of a brilliant light show. Defeated by my vindication, I walked back to the house and sneaked in the side door.
     —That you, Cass? my mother called out. My mother, who could hear a mouse yawn the next county over.
     —No, I whispered, not wanting to be me anymore.
     Christopher never came back. Neither did Ben or Ben’s father, Rich Gilchrist, who was the town supervisor. The funeral was attended by half a thousand people. That happens when you are a well-liked local politician and chief of the volunteer fire department. Not to mention a decorated war veteran. Many men in dress uniforms attended from all over Corinth County in rural upstate New York and across the Delaware into Pennsylvania. Phalanxes of fire trucks bright as polished mirrors lined the road beside the churchyard cemetery. People wept in the wake of all the eulogies, and afterward the bells tolled. It was the second big funeral in as many years—Emily Schaefer, Chris’s classmate, was killed the year before in what some believed was not the accidental death the authorities declared it—and our town still hadn’t recovered. Whereas before we followed one hearse to the cemetery, this year three coffins were carried out together after a joint service, one draped with an American flag and two smaller unadorned ones behind. To this day I can hear the bagpipes playing their dirge.
     Family friends and Christopher’s inseparable band of buddies—Bibb, Jimmy, Lare, Charley Granger, my favorite, even the brooding Roy Skoler, who slipped out back to smoke—came over to our rambling farmhouse afterward, and everyone ate from a smorgasbord and drank mulled cider and spoke in low shocked voices. As for myself, I hid upstairs. I felt guilty, bereft. Also angry. If he hadn’t so simply ignored me, things might have turned out different. I barricaded my door that night and spent hours memorizing my brother’s narrow freckled face, his edgy voice, his gawky mannerisms, his lame jokes, the Christopherness of him, so I could hold him as long as possible in the decaying cradle of memory.
     Instead of sleeping in my bed that night, I lay fitful on the floor, twisting around in my funeral clothes, hugging my doll Millicent, who was my first confidante and imaginary little sister. Why, I thought, should a grieving sibling sleep comfortably when her brother was stuck inside a dark box all alone? I felt hopeless, deeply discouraged. I didn’t want my brother to be dead. I didn’t want to be a witch. I had no interest in knowing ever again what might happen in this world before it did. My foresight was one thing. But to shift the flow of my brother’s will so it might not collide with his fate was as impossible as reaching out to grab one of those falling stars, hold it in my palm, and blow it out. Still would be beyond me, had he survived when a woman fell asleep at the wheel and crossed lanes, flying head-on into the Gilchrists’ car under a new moon. Which is to say no moon at all.
     My mother, for all her Christian religion, sank into a numb depression and stayed there for a long time. When I called her Mom she only sometimes answered; more often she just looked blankly right through me. Since she paid more attention to me when I addressed her by her first name, Rosalie, it became a habit that stuck. She took a year off from her job as a science teacher and spent days doing volunteer work for the church. None of her good deeds, from serving meals at a homeless shelter to clerking in the United Methodist thrift shop, buoyed her spirits. Though I didn’t want to believe it, some days I sensed she blamed Christopher’s death on me. This she would have denied, if asked—I didn’t—but it was there in a random gesture, a quiet phrase, a clouded glance. I do know she prayed for me. She told me as much. But I’m glad she prayed in silence.
     Looking back, I see that I was trying my best to breathe.
     If it hadn’t been for Christopher’s death, I probably would not have been raised by my father like I was. In Rosalie’s grieving absence, my dad and I reinvented our kinship. He was far too wise to bury his own sorrow by attempting to transform me into some factitious son, tomboy though I admittedly and perhaps inevitably was. High-spirited and gregarious, a magnet to a constant stream of friends, my brother had been nothing like his introverted sister, Cassandra, who more often than not kept her own company. Nep did his level best not to Christopherize me. Nor did I feel compelled to try to make my father into an older brother figure.
     Instead, we began hanging out together, a fond parent and his punk kid. He drove me to school and picked me up. Together we made three-bean chili and shepherd’s pie for dinners on the nights when Rosalie arrived home late. We listened avidly to his old jazz records, shunning the seventies pop music that filled the airwaves. Weekends I sat on a tall stool next to him in his repair shop, really just a converted barn near the house, filled with widgets, wires, gadgets and tools, boxes of tubes both glass and rubber, a thousand broken household things he, poor man’s Prospero, hoarded for spare parts and used to fix whatever people brought to him that wasn’t working. Radios, tractors, toasters, clocks, locks. He even mended a clarinet for some boy in a local marching band. Nep could, I marveled, take almost anything that had fallen into disrepair and make it new again. Young as I was, I recall thinking, He’s the last of a breed, Cass. Don’t take this for granted.
     I was crushed by my brother’s predicted death, stunned by my mother’s disappearance from our lives, and inspired, warmed, and moved by my father, who, however much I’d loved him before, was a revelation to me. The man was possessed, in his quirky way, of genius. I thought so then and still do now, even in the wake of all these intervening years.
     What needs to be said here is this. If I hadn’t been fathered so much by him, I might not have become, like him, a diviner. For however skilled he was at transforming the ruined into the r...

  • Reviews

    "A subtler take on the high-tension ghost story."

    "The Diviner's Tale is vividly imagined and carefully ambitious book, an attempt to explore the heart's mysteries by means of stories and images of the rolling profusion of language."
    New York Times Book Review

    Entertainment Weekly

    "Morrow quietly drops clues as he guides you deeper into the mystery of the dead girl -- and into Cass's own mind."
    New York Times

    "With The Diviner's Tale, Morrow demonstrates...that one need not sacrifice literary chops for more commercial leanings when the two are easily and readily combined."
    —Sarah Weinman for The Los Angeles Times

    A "solid gothic-infused tale of family secrets. ... Morrow (Ariel's Crossing) beautifully evokes Cassandra's inner turmoil..."
    Publishers Weekly

    "A committed dowser but reluctant psychic is the winsome protagonist of this sixth novel from Morrow (Ariel’s Crossing, 2002, etc.), which occupies a middle ground between domestic realism and Gothic suspense...Morrow does a fine job portraying a family whose love transcends sharply conflicting worldviews..."
    Kirkus Reviews

    "In his sublime new novel The Diviner’s Tale, Bradford Morrow accomplishes the deep, subtle miracle I have been waiting and waiting for someone to effect—he gives us the first novel-length work of fiction that actually does create a seamless breathing breathtaking unity of the literary and the suspense novel. This novel detonates the very notion of genre. And it works because it is riveting, insightful, sentence by sentence charged with feeling, as it bears us helpless with it on its downward journey to illumination."
    —Peter Straub, author of Ghost Story and A Dark Matter

    "Bradford Morrow, like the diviner-heroine of The Diviner’s Tale, is a mesmerizing storyteller who casts an irresistible spell. He has constructed an ingeniously plotted mystery that is at the same time a love story—luminous and magical, fraught with suspense, beautifully and subtly rendered—a feat of prose divination."
    —Joyce Carol Oates, author of A Fair Maiden

    "Bradford Morrow is a force of nature. I have already publicly used the word ‘masterpiece’ about one of his books, Trinity Fields. It is a measure of this writer that I must invoke the word again, and about a novel that not only contains pitch-perfect, surpassingly beautiful line-to-line writing but that finds in fictional genre forms both narrative excitement and profound human insight fully as successfully as Dostoevsky did with murder mysteries and Melville did with sea adventures. The Diviner’s Tale will not only delight, it will endure."
    —Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain and Hell

    "An astonishing dark gem of a novel, The Diviner's Tale is a gorgeously written, deeply unsettling thriller that kept me reading long past my bedtime for three nights in a row. I don't regret a moment of it, and neither will you; I loved this book."
    —Elizabeth Hand, author of Generation Loss and Ilyria

    "Superb. The only thing I did for two straight days was read this book—it really is that riveting. It reminded me of the greatest Hitchcock films that were somehow alchemically able to combine suspense, wonder, and romance all in one seamless story that kept you guessing and gasping right up until the end. A long time fan of Morrow’s work, I can honestly say this is the best he’s ever done."
    —Jonathan Carroll, author of The Wooden Sea and The Ghost in Love

    "Bradford Morrow’s The Diviner’s Tale packs a mighty emotional wallop. This haunting portrayal of a woman possessed by irresistible visions which draw her through mystery and terror to cataclysmic self-discovery is both chilling and impossible to put down. Morrow is at the top of his form: bold, original, and mesmerizing. Truly a stunning achievement."
    —Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day

    "Bradford Morrow's beautifully written and tautly paced novel brings the old and all but forgotten gift of divination into the modern world. With the aptly named but thoroughly contemporary Cassandra as the book's flawlessly rendered voice, Morrow has created a woman both heroic in what she seeks and human in what she finds. The Diviner's Tale is about past crimes and future consequences, a tale whose subtle and mysterious confluences are as elusive as water underground."
    —Thomas H. Cook, author of The Last Talk with Lola Faye

    "The Diviner’s Tale is Morrow's most ambitious novel yet. He deftly wicks the literary and the paranormal into a single strand, making us wonder why we ever thought of the two as separate, and then uses this thread to weave a perfectly articulated mystery. The result is a sly masterpiece by a truly marvelous stylist that will cause you to question what you thought you knew about both genre and literature. Triply satisfying, The Diviner's Tale is a virtuoso performance."
    —Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain and Fugue State

    "The Diviner's Tale is chilling and unexpectedly powerful... Morrow writes extraordinay literary thrillers, giving us beautiful language while telling an old-fashioned, nail-biting story."