Although set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1950, Hunter’s Dance, Kathleen Hills’ previous book in her John McIntire series, could have taken place at any time between 1940 and 1960, the relatively isolated UP having changed very little in that time. Not likewise with Witch Cradle, which takes place in early 1951, only a few months later. When a huge winter storm brings down trees across the countryside, what’s found in the roots of one (hence the title) suggests that one married couple never managed to take their long-planned trek to a Russian commune sixteen years before.
Tied in with the Communistic dreams had by some in the 1930s is the repugnant McCarthyism of the 1950s, that era of national paranoia about Reds around every corner, and in every schoolhouse and in every film in the country. McIntire’s investigation seems to lead to tragedy and heartbreak at every turn of the tale, including his finding an FBI agent breathing heavily down his own neck.
Based on true events, Hills’ story has a lot of resonance to it, but it reads as though too much has been crammed into it. That one player’s characterization is completely reversed from the previous book does not help, either. The revelation of secrets from McIntire’s hidden past also seems forced and insufficiently blended in. The intention is admirable, but the execution is lacking.