Book Review: ‘The Hawley Book of the Dead’ — Horses are Magic

Erin McCabe checks out this fast-paced read.


With its contemporary setting and elements of magic(al realism), The Hawley Book of the Dead isn’t my usual read, so I gave it the first sentence test. Any book that begins with a sentence like, “On the day I killed my husband, I woke to the scent of lilacs,” is pretty much going to be a shoo in for me. Combine that with the news that author Chrysler Szarlan is a bona fide HorseGirl herself (she used to work with race horses and now rides her horse in the real Hawley Forest where the novel is partially set), and I was intrigued.

The Hawley Book of the Dead cast its spell and absolutely caught me in its mysterious web of family history, legend, and magic. Add horses, mystery, suspense, a dash of romance, and a stable’s worth of unique characters to the mix, and I was enchanted. The story opens in Las Vegas, where main character Revelation runs a world-renowned magic act with her husband Jeremy. When a magic trick gone wrong results in Jeremy’s death and reveals a sinister plot, Revelation flees with her three daughters, three horses (and a goat!), and her husband’s cousin Nathan to Hawley Five Corners, her childhood home in Massachusetts. Hawley Five Corners also just happens to be a ghost town in the middle of the forest. Spooky much? But Reve has happy memories of the place, including days spent riding in the forest with her best friend (and first love) Jolon, who, it turns out, is the local police chief.

What I enjoyed most about the novel was the thrill of the suspense. I was drawn in by the multiple mysteries: who wanted Reve’s husband dead? Why? What happened to Reve’s best friend Maggie Hamilton? Why did the earlier generation of Reve’s family disappear from Hawley Five Corners? And that’s just the beginning! The horses in the book are an added bonus, and a certain historical detail about one of Reve’s ancestors really tickled me. While I thoroughly enjoyed the ride this novel took me on, if I have to be picky, I’d say the book focuses more on plot (it kind of has to with everything it’s got going on) and less on characters than I would have liked. There are just so many fascinating minor characters here whom I’d love to know more about (word is that this is the first of a quartet though, so perhaps the details I want will be forthcoming). Bottom line? I stayed up into the wee hours of the night, breezing through chapters to see what the tapestry of love, betrayal, murder, revenge and redemption would reveal.

FTC Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher; this is my honest review.

About the Author: Erin McCabe rides two OTTB mares and hopes to someday soon get back to competing at horse trials. Her first novel, I Shall Be Near To You, was published earlier this year. You can learn more at



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