The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

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Goodreads: The Caged Graves
Source: Library
Published: 2013


It is 1867 and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is heading home to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, to reunite with the father she barely remembers and to marry a man she knows only through letters.  When she visits the local cemetery, however, two caged graves on unconsecrated ground catch her attention–and one of them is her mother’s.  Determined to see her mother laid properly to rest, Verity inadvertently embroils herself in an old mystery full of hidden treasure, family feuds, and rumored witchcraft.  Soon, not only her engagement but also her life is at risk.


The Caged Graves blends mystery, romance, and suspense to create a lavish tale that immerses readers in a pleasantly Gothic town still recovering from the recent Civil War.  Atmosphere proves as important as either character or plot in this book, and Dianne K. Salerni obligingly lays on the late-night chills with rumors of madness, unexplained events, and half-whispered accusations of witchcraft.  The horror never verges into the unbelievable, however, but simply flavors what is otherwise a guilty pleasure of a historical romance.

The plot never truly leaves the path of the predictable, but readers who enjoy the tropes of historical romances or who enjoy books about the potential claustrophobia of small towns will not find themselves disappointed.  The book, in fact, seems set to please those who like getting out a blanket and a cup of cocoa to watch one of those cheesy cowboy movies with a mail order bride, her rancher and/or sheriff betrothed,  and a charming out-of-towner determined to snatch the girl for himself.  No one doubts the outcome and some of the “drama” may elicit a smile rather than a gasp, but, hey, the couple is cute together and you want to root for them against all their small-minded naysayers.  Plus it feels good to know that everything is going to end up all right.

Criticizing a work that makes no pretensions as to its literary merits but simply asks readers to enjoy the story for what it is almost seems silly–and yet it seems just as silly to ignore the book’s one glaring flaw.  Verity Boone is no 1867 woman.  Verity Boone is the character that makes 1867 palatable for the modern reader.  Bold and impetuous, Verity goes where she wants, does what she wants, and says what she wants.  She traipses around town and the swamp alone, opening herself up to suspected trysts with men.  She fears nothing and talks a lot about how she never faints, allowing her to assist at surgery with the attractive doctor’s apprentice.  If something needs to be done and Verity’s petticoats will show, she lets them show.  If someone says something classist, Verity is quick to condemn.  If they spout the viewpoints of their time, Verity is quick to prove herself a feminist.   “Progressive” does not begin to describe this woman–she seems, rather, to have been transported from the twenty-first century.  She is out of time, out of place–and I had trouble believing that no one ever called her out for it.

Aside from Verity’s character, I found little reason not to immerse myself whole-heartedly in the story.  With two charming male leads, the love triangle provides just enough tension while never veering into the overdramatic.  All the characters are richly drawn, offering hidden depths just when some readers may have dismissed them as nothing more than a plot device or an extra, present simply to make the world seem populated.  The chills prove tingly enough to keep the story interesting, without overwhelming the reader with horror.  All things considered, The Caged Graves is a fun Gothic read, perfect for those who like their atmosphere dark–but not too dark.

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