Days to the Gallows

Written by Katherine Spada Basto
Review by Anna Belfrage

Set in Hartford, Connecticut, this book is a well-researched retelling of the Hartford Witch Panic in 1662, a tragic event when the unsubstantiated accusations of a young girl led to the hanging of several persons as witches.

At the time, Hartford was a very Puritan place, and Ms Basto gives a lot of insight into just how constricting it was to live in a theocracy, all the way from the very long sessions at the meeting house every Sabbath to the constant vigilance against any signs of sinful behaviour. When Hester Hosmer sees her neighbour and friend Ann Cole sneaking out at night to spy on their neighbours, she decides to accompany her. Ann had a reputation of being a bit touched in the head, and Hester worries she might come to harm stumbling about in the dark on her own. As it turns out, what the girls witness will give result in Ann accusing others of witchery, thereby making her something of a celebrity in the little town. When Hester is appalled at Ann’s behaviour, her former friend turns on her too.

I imagine anyone with an interest in the early colonial period in New England will find this book an interesting read. Other than a few ugly tense shifts right at the beginning, the writing is fluid. I would have wanted more character development—especially when it comes to Ann’s motivations. As it is, Days to the Gallows reads more like a drama documentary than a novel.