William J. Birnes and Joel Martin

Tor / Forge, $15.99, 464 pages

William J. Birnes and Joel Martin’s new book delves into slices of history with touches of the paranormal. One slightly irksome quality for readers new to this writing pair is the frequent reference to the authors’ previous works in various chapters. Each chapter contains its own historical interest and paranormal intrigue. One very fascinating chapter in particular would have to be New Orleans. It discusses at some length, the exploits of Voodoo queen, Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie. She was a “free woman of color” (c. 1794-1881), who was free to practice Voodoo due to the fear she induced in authorities. In one recounting there was a young man that was accused of raping a young woman and the evidence was convincing. The young man’s father hired Marie Laveau for her Voodoo services. The Voodoo queen managed to obtain the young man’s acquittal, after which he changed his ways and wished to marry the young woman. The woman rejected his proposal and so the young man hired the Voodoo queen to create a love potion. Marie Laveau concocted her magic and the two fell in love.

Madame LaLaurie was a wealthy slave owner who enjoyed the comforts being served in every regard.  However, her true desire was to torture and murder her slaves. In one famous incident, a young slave girl that was the Madame’s personal servant, accidently snagged the Madame’s hair while brushing it. Madame LaLaurie chased and flogged the child until she jumped from the roof to her death. Her ghost and the ghosts of all the other dead slaves could be seen and heard from the attic of Madame LaLaurie’s French Quarter mansion for many years thereafter. When workman came to replace the floorboards in the attic many years later, they uncovered the remains of seventy-five slaves.  They were victims of torture and a deadly fire which claimed their lives. This is one of the less-than-supernatural explanations for something unimaginable.

There is far more to this book which, cannot be covered in this brief review. If you have an interest in reading tales of history and the paranormal, then this is the book you’ll continue to return to again and again.

Jon Sanetel