The Map of True Places

“Learn to determine…(your) true destination by looking at the stars…to chart an accurate course…”

Just as she used lace in her historical fiction The Lace Reader to instill traces of New England in the 1600s  that still define the town of Salem, Barry converts the historical drama of the place famous for witches to a modern-day drama – this time using a sextant and stars – in her latest novel – The Map of True Places. Again, Barry successfully mixes mystery, romance, murder and mayhem.

Zee, short for Hepzibah is the daughter of Maureen, a beautiful Irish immigrant mother who suffered from a bipolar personality.   To compensate for the grief and guilt of her mother’s suicide, Zee grows up to be a therapist.  After one of her patients, Lilly, – remarkably close in symptoms to her mother’s –  dies, Zee quits her practice and becomes caretaker to her gay father, suffering from Parkinson’s and dementia.  But  Lilly’s death continues to haunt and drive the story.

The town is central to the tale of Zee’s finding her true North, connecting Zee’s father as an historian with an affinity for Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose house still stands as a tourist attraction, and her mother, a writer with an unfinished story based on colonial star-crossed lovers who lived in the town.


The narrative heats up with the introduction of Hawk, a handsome sailor/itinerant lecturer/carpenter,  described as “a young George Clooney.”  Lurking in the background and making sporadic appearances that spice up the action are the misnamed villain in his red pick-up truck; Melville, Zee’s father’s lover; Mickey, her mother’s Irish brother; and Jessima, the Haitian caregiver and baker.

Barry knows how to create complicated characters who are easy to follow as they tangentially intersect.  The mystery has successful red herrings that lead you astray before becoming satisfyingly apparent.  In The Map of True Places,  romance also plays an important role – in Maureen’s unsuccessful quest for true love,  in her projection for Zee’s possibilities, and finally in a quirky climax that brings the dead mother’s fantasy into protective defense for her daughter.

The ending brings it all together, and you’ll go away convinced that Salem still has some magic.