The Quick Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.
For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.
Very briefly, the stories are as follows:
Lovecraft Country is about a visit to a manor where dangers (of all kinds) await.
The Dreams of the Which House is about trying to turn a (possibly haunted) mansion into a multi-unit apartment building.
Abdullah's Book is about a task to track down an ancient tome.
Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe is about the discovery of a portal to another planet.
Jekyll in Hyde Park is about a black woman who wakes up white.
The Narrow House involves an encounter with ghosts.
Horace and the Devil Doll is about a sentient, murderous doll.
And finally, The Mark of Cain involves a final encounter between the many characters in book.
Chapter One: Lovecraft Country
Atticus Turner, a black man, gets a letter from his father, Montrose, asking him to go to Ardham Massachusetts. Atticus travels there with his Uncle George (and his childhood friend Letitia stows away with them, too). There are rumors of Lovecraftian monsters in that area, but they mostly just encounter racist cops.
At the mansion, Atticus learns that he is the most direct descendant of Titus Braithwhite, a wealthy white man who died in 1795. The house now belongs to Samuel Braithwhite (a more distant descendant). Titus had once led a coven of men, a strange religious order, that is now being led by Samuel. The members kidnapped Atticus's father to lure Atticus there. They need Atticus's blood to perform a ritual. However, Samuel's son, Caleb Braithwhite, gives Atticus an incantation to kill off the entire order. Atticus is able to leave safely, along with his father, George and Letitia.
Chapter Two: The Dreams of the Which House
Letitia and her sister Ruby are given money from an anonymous man who claims to be paying off a debt owed to their late father, Warren. They purchase The Winthrop House, a house located in a white neighborhood that is rumored to be haunted. The seller wishes to remain anonymous. Letitia encounters a phantom in the house, but is undeterred and even friendly towards it. Those in the neighborhood are angry about a black woman owning property there and try to vandalize her house, but the phantom fights them off.
Later, Atticus finds a photo of Hiram Winthrop (original owner of the house) with Samuel Braithwhite. Atticus suspects Caleb Braithwhite is involved in all this somehow. He tells the realtor, John Archibald, to send Caleb a warning to leave Letitia alone.
Chapter Three: Abdullah's Book
George and Montrose find out a book that has been passed down for generations (the Book of Days from their great-grandmother Adah) is missing. The book is a record of what Adah should have been paid for her slave labor, plus interest. They learn that Caleb has stolen it. To recover it, Caleb wants them to steal a different book for him, a (possibly magical) tome called The Book of Names. Caleb's father had tried to get it from Hiram Winthrop unsuccessfully. Now, he believes it is hidden in the Museum of Natural History.
George and Montrose engineer a plan (with the help of the Freemason lodge they are a part of) to find the book and give Caleb a fake. They find The Book of Names, but Caleb foils their plan. Reluctantly, they hand over the real book. Caleb returns Adah's Book of Days and gives them the balance of Adah's unpaid labor, plus interest, totaling around $300,000.
Chapter Four: Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe
At the Winthrop House, Hippolyta, discovers a key to Hiram's observatory, which is also a machine that is able to generate a portal to another planet. On that planet, in a gated area, Hippolyta meets Ida, a former employee of Hiram Wintrop. There are monsters that roam outside the perimeter.
Ida and a bunch of other employees were brought here after a maid, Pearl, ran off with Hiram's son. Hiram wanted to scare them into telling him where they went. Hiram intended to leave them for a few days, but in the interim, Hiram's business partner Samuel Braithwhite must have killed Hiram. (The others are dead from various causes.) After a Scylla consumes two watchmen that followed Hippolyta here, Ida tells Hippolyta to leave. Ida believes Hiram's spirit lured Hippolyta here to bring Ida back to earth, so he can continue to hunt down Pearl.
Ida gives Hippolyta a box that contains a creature intended to kill Hippolyta. But as Hippolya heads back to her car, it ends up attacking some white men that are hassling Hippolyta instead. Back at home, Hippolyta notices a comic book her son Horace drew about a female space traveler is missing from her car.
Chapter Five: Jekyll in Hyde Park
Ruby wakes up as a white woman after Caleb offers her an elixir, which temporarily transforms her into a beautiful white redhead. He then offers her a job working for him as he works to unify all the lodges of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. (Ruby has recently been fired from a job after being accused unfairly of stealing.) In exchange, he will give her the deed to a townhouse and a supply of elixirs, giving her the power essentially to choose her race.
Ruby performs some tasks for Caleb, including hiding a magical charm in the office of Captain John Lancaster. (Lancaster leads the Chicago lodge of the Order and hopes to be the leader of all the ledges, but Caleb wants it for himself.) However, she goes into the basement of the townhouse one day to discover the body of the red-headed woman, Delilah, whose blood is being used to power the elixir. Caleb claims Delilah would have died anyway, and the story ends with him telling Ruby that she needs to decide who she wants to be.
Chapter Six: The Narrow House
Caleb asks Atticus and Montrose to find Henry Winthrop, the son of Hiram Winthrop. Henry took some of his father's books when he ran away, and Caleb wants to acquire them. He's especially interested in Hiram Winthrop's old notebooks. Atticus and Montrose go to Aken, Illinois, where Henry is rumored to be going by the name "Henry Narrow". However, they find out that the Narrow family died at the hands of a racist mob that was angry about having a interracial family in their neighborhood.
When they go to the Narrow house, Montrose finds himself meeting the ghosts of the Narrow family. The ghosts exist in some strange limbo state where they relive the last day of their lives. Henry and Montrose chat, but afterwards a mob descends and murders the Narrow family. Montrose also sees the ghost of his deceased father. Afterwards, Atticus finds Montrose in the Narrow house, in the real world, clutching Hiram Winthrop's notebooks. Montrose tells Atticus that they are going to tell Caleb that they found nothing here.
Chapter Seven: Horace and the Devil Doll
Horace is approached by Detective Noble, Detective Burke and Captain Lancaster. A comic book (Orithyia Blue) Horace drew was found near Hiram's observatory. They demand that Horace ask Hippolyta about it and report back to them. When Horace won't cooperate, Lancaster performs a spell that causes inanimate objects to move and another to prevent Horace from telling others what happened.
Horace notices that all sorts of cartoons and images of black people are staring at him or grinning. Horace's friends bring a strange African Pygmy Devil Doll to their clubhouse, and it eventually attacks Horace. However, Horace manages to use Scrabble tiles to spell out to Ruby what happened. Ruby tells Caleb. Caleb shows up, kills the doll and removes the curses. Caleb thinks Lancaster must have assumed Hippolya was at the observatory on Caleb's orders, and Lancaster tried to kill Horace in order to punish Hippolyta for working with Caleb. Caleb plans to kill Lancaster.
Chapter Eight: The Mark of Cain
Everyone (Montrose, Leticia, Hippolyta, et al.) gets together to discuss and share stories about their experiences with Caleb. Caleb has a plan to get rid of Lancaster, but they decide that they need to get rid of both of them. They decide to pretend to go along with Caleb's plan, but ask Winthrop's ghost for help.
Caleb meets with Lancaster to work out their differences, but Caleb (along with everyone's help) lures Lancaster into a room where a monster swallows Lancaster and his croonies up. Then Atticus enacts his plan, where he uses magic (thanks to Wintrop) to alter Caleb's Mark of Cain. The altered mark prevents Caleb from entering into certain geographic areas and prevents him from doing magic. They toss Caleb into their truck, drop him off in Indiana and drive off.
Hippolyta asks Letitia to get the combination from Wintrop so she can go back and find Ida and tell her what happened to Pearl (despite Ida having tried to kill her with that monster). Meanwhile, Ruby (as Hillary) goes back to the employment agency, introducing herself as Hillary Hyde, looking for a new job. Finally, George, Montrose, Atticus and Horace put the rest of the money Caleb gave George into a safe. The book ends with Atticus and Montrose agreeing to take Horace along for their next trip around for the Guide.
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Chapter One: Lovecraft Country, Detailed Summary
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1959. Atticus Turner, a 22-year-old black man, is driving from Jacksonville to Chicago when he blows a tire. The local auto repair shop refuses to help, so Atticus checks The Safe Negro Travel Guide to find a mechanic instead. A guy from an auto shop about 50 miles away, Earl Maybree, agrees to fix the tire and lets him stay the night in his home. Earl’s wife, Mavis, fixes them dinner. The next day, a police officer stops Atticus and searches his car because of his out-of-state plates.
Atticus is going to Chicago to help his father, Montrose, who has written to him about his “birthright” involving the ancestry of his late mother, Dora. He wants Atticus to accompany him to Ardham, Massachusetts, part of Devon County and what’s considered “Lovecraft Country“, to “claim” it. Dora, who passed away when Atticus was 17, was raised by a single mother, and knew little of the rest of her family. Montrose was obsessive about finding out her history.
In Chicago, he first sees Uncle George / George Berry (Montrose’s brother), who publishes the The Safe Negro Travel Guide with the help of his wife Aunt Hippolyta. George tells Atticus about an encounter in Devon County involving a guy, Victor Franklin, who was working on the Guide. Victor thought he saw a monster called the shoggoth, but was run out of the county by a racist sheriff before he could investigate. Like Atticus, George likes science fiction. Montrose, on the other hand, dislikes Atticus reading a genre of books authored almost exclusively by white authors (some of whom are clearly racist).
Atticus completed his military service not too long ago, and Montrose had strongly disagreed with his decision to enlist to begin with. It resulted in a big physical fight the last time he was home. At his father’s house, the landlady Mrs. Frazier tells Atticus that his father left with a white man in a fancy silver car almost a week ago and hasn’t been back. Charles Boyd, the bartender at Denmark Vesey (a bar Montrose frequents), saw this white man approach Montrose a week and a half ago and give him his business card.
Atticus and George plan to drive to Ardham to look for Montrose. Letitia Dandridge, a family friend who reads fortunes on the side, joins them. She needs a ride up to her brother Marvin’s place in Massachusetts, and George hopes Marvin can tell them how to get to Ardham.
On the way, they stop at a restaurant, Lydia’s, for George to check out for the Guide. The counterboy calls for help regarding “scary Negros” in the restaurant, and they are soon surrounded, but Letitia causes a distraction with a horse and they get away. A firetruck follows them, but a silver car cuts it off which causes a wreck, allowing them to escape.
At Marvin’s, he warns them that the county seat of Devon County is Bideford, a particularly insular and backwards city. And to get to the manor they believe Montrose is at, they need to go through Bideford. Letitcia wants to go, but they say no.
The next day, Atticus and George drive through Bideford and are almost out when they are stopped by Sheriff Eustace Hunt. He accuses them of being responsible for a string of burglaries in the area. The sheriff starts marching them at gunpoint when gunshots ring through the air and his car lights on fire. The two deputies are attacked by some type of beast, which they think was a grizzly bear. Meanwhile, she sheriff is shot by what turns out to be Leticia, who secretly joined them in the back of their car. They take the guns.
They arrive at the small farming village of Ardham the next morning, but aren’t sure exactly how they arrived there.At the manor, Atticus sees a silver car parked out front. A man, William, welcomes them in. He explains that the house is the vacation home of Samuel Braithwhite, who owns the silver car as well. He tells them Mr. Braithwhite and Montrose went to Boston yesterday to meet with a lawyer. The three of them are set up in their own luxurious wing of the house, with lots of amenities and meals provided.
Ardham was originally founded by Samuel’s ancestor, Titus Braithwhite. Atticus recognizes it as the name of a slave trader who owned one of his ancestors, Hannah, on his mother’s side. Something “terrible” had happened and so she ran away. Atticus knows he cannot trust these people.
They go to look around, and Atticus brings with him a gun. Ardham is a feudal-styled village with the manor at its center, and its people are “Adamites”. At the church, there is a strange stained-glass image of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eve, but some elements are missing. A red-haired woman, Dell, introduces herself as the “village warden” and shows them around. There are dogs around the village, which Dell says is to drive bears off.
Another group of guests begin to show up at the house. William says they are the Adamite Order of the Ancient Dawn. Atticus notes that they are all older white men. Atticus finds a book of their bylaws and read it, deducing that he’s here because he must be a descendant of Titus Braithwhite, which the men confirm. They involved Montrose because they knew he could convince Atticus to come. Atticus meets Caleb, Samuel’s son, and is brought to see Samuel.
Samuel tells him the goal of the order is to find their way back to the Garden of Eden. In 1795, Titus attempted something in order to do that and it resulted in a great fire in Ardham. The only survivors were Tobias Foote, who went mad, and a “dark woman” who presumably was Hannah. The current line of Braithwhites are descended down from a cousin, but they believe that Atticus, as a direct Titus Braithwhite descendant, has special powers that can help them. (“You require me,” Atticus said. “To be your magic Negro?”) They need him for a ritual tomorrow.
Atticus insists on seeing his father. Dell takes him to a cellar under the town workshop where he is chained up. Apparently, he wasn’t behaving himself. Upset, Atticus knocks out Dell, a workman and the mastiff guarding the workshop. Meanwhile, George and Leticia show up with a stolen silver car. They begin driving off, but the car suddenly stops. Caleb walks calmly towards them and shoots Montrose.
The next morning, Atticus and the rest are back in custody, and the ritual is still happening. Montrose is unable to move, and yet there is no wound. Atticus wonders about the phantom bullet they shot him with. In the morning, Caleb expresses regret over what happened, but says he’s under his father’s orders. He leaves the manor.
Atticus is brought into the ritual room with all of the Order. They tell him to read from a script, which he does. Suddenly, a white light appears and Atticus understands that if he keeps reading, then he and all the Order will be enveloped by the light and return to a unnamed, race-less and genderless primordial state. Instead, Atticus pulls out a note that Caleb had secretly slipped to him (by way of William) earlier and reads from it instead. Suddenly, the rest of the Order is turned into stone.
Back outside, Montrose can move again, and George and Letitia are fine. William greets them, noting that Caleb had him fix their car, repack their things, and added an upgrade. The modification will make law officials on the road treat them as if they are invisible. William then hurries off, and the three drive off.
Chapter Two: The Dreams of the Which House, Detailed Summary
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Some months later, Letitia gets a letter from a lawyer. There’s a check for her, a payment of an old gambling debt to her late father. The lawyer notes that the check is intended specifically for the daughters of Warren Dandrige, which means Letitia and her sister Ruby (but not their brother Marvin). Letitia wants to use the money to buy a place to live in with rooms to rent out for income.
Letitia wants to buy in a white neighborhood, though George warns her it’s complicated. She’ll have to find a white person to serve as a front-man in the deal. He tells her about a couple, Albert and Thea, who did that but still ended up with 39 counts of vandalism by their neighbors in the first year. Still, Letitia and Ruby visit the offices of Mr. Bailey, a Realtist (not a Realitor, because that title is reserved for white people). Instead, a white man, John Archibald shows up, identifying himself as Mr. Bailey’s silent partner.
Letitia purchases the The Winthrop House, a 14-bedroom fixer upper. Even in it’s disheveled state with a broken elevator, the price is low. Archibald admits that there are rumors that The Winthrop House is haunted. There’s also a creepy pagan fountain in the atrium, but until the house is fully paid off, any significant alterations would have to be approved by the seller. Furthermore, any communications have to go through Mr. Archibald and the real estate company, Penumbra Real Estate.
The house was originally built by Hiram Winthrop, who lived there with his son. His wife died right before they moved in. In the house, there’s an intricate model solar system, which Letitia gifts to Horace, George and Hippolyta’s son. There’s also a wall of constellations, though Hippolyta notes that they are unrecognizable.
Saturday night, Letitia and Ruby throw a housewarming party. Mr. Wilkins manages a Salvation Army store, and Letitia offers him six months rent-free in exchange for furniture. Letitia also offers Atticus a job as a handyman in exchange for room and board. He accepts, agreeing to start on Friday. Atticus warns Letitia that some neighborhood kids were giving dirty looks to a Cadillac belonging to Tree Hawkins, a friend of theirs. The next day, the tires are slashed and the n-word is scratched on the hood.
Ruby keeps thinking someone is in the house, and when she hears a strange tapping sound she leaves in fear. When Letitia sees vulgar insults written on the bathroom mirror, she grabs her gun and starts looking for potential intruders. As she does, an unseen force pushes her around, but Letitia refuses to leave.
On Wednesday, Letitia is surrounded by a group of young white men who try to harass her as she walks in the neighborhood, but her friend’s dog (a German Shepherd named Charlie Boyd, Jr.) who is staying with her scares them off.
As a fortune teller, Letitia has often used her cards to contact her late father. Now, she does it to contact the spirits in the house. Suddenly her cards are thrown up into the air by an unseen force. At the same time, some neighbors start flinging cow shit at the house. Letitia is tempted to shoot them, but remembers her father’s warning that once she does they’ll see her as someone they can shoot in the back with impunity. Letitia goes back inside and invites the phantom to a game of chess.
On Friday, some boys from the neighborhood come by with a gas can to torch the house. However, they are attacked by the phantom that drags them away, screaming. The noise brings the police in to check things out, and no damage is done. Atticus moves in. Later, the first tenants move into the house. Letitia notices the “FOR SALE” signs that have cropped up around the neighborhood, as the white families try to move out.
Atticus goes to visit Mr. Archibald after finding a box of photos. There’s a photo of Mr. Winthrop with Samuel Braithwhite, so he suspects Caleb is involved in this. Atticus also says that he knows Mr. Archibald stole this sale from Mr. Bailey, who was arrested randomly the morning Letitia came by. Archibald, shrugs it off.
Before he leaves, Atticus tells Mr. Archibald to convey a warning to Caleb Braithwhite to leave Letitia alone.
Chapter Three: Abdullah’s Book, Detailed Summary
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George and Montrose go to pick up their great-grandmother Adah’s “Book of Days.” It contains an accounting of her time in servitude. She passed away in 1902, but the book keeps track of what she is owed for her labors. Adah was born a slave, but was emancipated in in 1964. The book assigns dollar values for her work, with extra charges for things like whippings. The final amount owed was $8,817.29, plus interest. Her daughter, Ruth, wrote letters to try to collect this debt, but was ignored.
George and Montrose are actually half-brothers. George’s father, Jacob Berry, died young from an asthma attack. Their mother, Lucy Berry, remarried to Ulysses Turner, Montrose’s father. The two men have contrasting family histories. The Berrys were given their freedom, land and some money by their last owner in 1832, and Jacob Berry had been a successful businessman. Meanwhile the Turner’s family history was one of struggle, resistance and raiding white settlements.
They open the safety deposit box to find the book missing. Instead, there’s a note with an address (THE WITCH’S HAMMER, 750 W. Berwick Street), stamped with the half-sun symbol of the Order of the Ancient Dawn.
The two men head to The Witch’s Hammer. They find a group of men there, including Caleb Braithwhite and Atticus (who appears to have been brought there involuntarily). Caleb introduces Detectives Burke and Noble as well as Captain Lancaster, head of the local chapter of the Order. Caleb wants George, Montrose and Atticus to locate a magical tome called The Book of Names. In return, he’ll give them back Adah’s book.
Caleb’s father had believed The Book of Names to be among Hiram Winthrop’s possessions, but couldn’t find it after Hiram died. Now Caleb thinks it is at the Museum of Natural History, where Hiram was a board member and is rumored to have installed a secret room.
George and Montrose are both members of the Prince Hall Freemasons (a social club and charity). They attend a lodge meeting to ask for help. Collectively, they come up with a plan to find The Book of Names and swap it out with a fake. Then, later they can go with Caleb and “find” the fake for him to keep. The lodge secretary, Abdullah, has a cousin who can help, but Abdullah insists on destroying the book if they find it. The men agree.
They meet up at the museum. George has an old book to serve as the decoy with him. Abdullah’s cousin, Bradley, works security at the museum and lets them in. They go searching for Hiram’s secret room. A secret passage leads to a carefully engineered room with a chest that appears to be suspended inside a large sphere. The corpse of another failed seeker of the book hangs above them. Using a harness, ropes and etc, they try to get to the booby-trapped chest, but to no avail. Finally, they locate a secret button that releases the book.
As they head out with the real Book of Names, Caleb appears, stopping them in their tracks. He demands the book. Reluctantly, George hands over the book. Caleb gives them back Adah’s book, plus a cloth bag with “something extra.” Inside the bag is the money that was owed to Adah, plus interest, a total of around $300,000.
Chapter Four: Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe, Detailed Summary
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At the Winthrop House, Hippolyta discovers an addendum to a list of astronomical observatories of North America. The handwritten note adds the entry of “HIRAM WINTHROP OBSERVATORY, WARLOCK HILL, WISCONSIN” to the list of observatories, plus a set of numbers serving as some sort of code. She also finds a rod-shaped key.
As a child, Hippolyta’s father instilled in her a love of astronomy. In 1930, Planet X was discovered. Hippolya wrote to Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer, with the suggestion that the planet be named Pluto. However, another little girl had written in via telegram (faster) the same suggestion, which was accepted.
Hippolyta wants to go check out Hiram’s observatory. When she’s on the road for the Guide, she often tries to visit observatories on the way. At Warlock Hill, it turns into a private road. There’s a shack with two white men serving as watchmen, but they are both asleep. She parks and continues on foot. At the dome, she uses the code and key to turn on the machinery.
On a central platform, there is a console, which can be set to different number combinations. It’s connected to a walkway with a doorway at the end. She tries a few at random, and each time it results in a different visual illusion being displayed by the machine. However, she hits upon a beach scene and realizes these are no mere illusions. As she walks through the doorway at the end of the walkway, she is transported.
She steps onto the beach and sees buildings in the distance. She goes towards them and then through multiple gates. She tries to enter a cage, but it’s electrified and she gets shocked. When she regains consciousness, she is being watched over by an old black woman with a gun named Ida, who demands to know who Hippolya is. Hippolya tells her exactly what happened. The old woman tells her that Hiram’s spirit must have sent her and that this is a different planet called T. Hiram. It stands for “Terra Hiram“.
Ida explains that this house was built from some type of kit and there is a machine that generates food every four hours. There’s a lethal barrier around them, and the four cottages inside the barrier. There are dangerous creatures that live around outside their perimeter.
She, and all the other people that were originally here, were former employees of Hiram Winthrop. There was James Storm (chauffeur), Gordon Lee (cook), Mr. Slade (handyman) and two maids (Ida and Mary). Pearl had been the third maid, but she ran off with Hiram’s son.
In 1935, Hiram brought them here to scare them into telling him where Pearl and his son had run off to. They refused, since it was clear he intended to harm Pearl. Ida thinks Hiram intended to leave them here for a few days, but that Hiram’s business partner, Samuel Braithwhite, must’ve killed Hiram in the interim. So, they were stranded on this planet. It’s now 1954 and Ida is the only one left. (James went out to the beach and was killed by a Scylla. Gordon went exploring and was killed by some animal. Mr. Slade went out in a storm and was killed. Mary passed away, from health issues, in 1949.)
There’s a telescope here, but as Ida shows Hippolyta the galaxy, two white men (the watchmen) show up on the beach. They get eaten by the Scylla. Ida tells her that the Scylla is full, so this is a good time for Hippolyta to leave (Hippolyta left the portal door open). Ida insists on staying on the planet, as she believes Hiram’s ghost is still out there. Ida thinks that his ghost lured Hippolyta to this planet to bring Ida back so he can continue to hunt down Pearl.
Ida gives Hippolyta a box with a sphere and tells Hippolyta to destroy the key to the observatory. Back in Warlock Hill, Hippolyta heads back to her car and runs into some white men who hassle her for being on private property. They poke the sphere and it turns into a tentacled creature that attacks them. (Hippolyta realizes Ida likely meant to kill her with it, so she couldn’t tell more people about the observatory.)
Back at home, Hippolyta notices that a comic book her son Horace drew about a female space traveler, Orithyia Blue (which bears some weird resemblances to her journey), is missing from her car.
Chapter Five: Jekyll in Hyde Park, Detailed Summary
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Ruby wakes up on New Years as a white person. Back on Christmas, Ruby had worked a party where a pair of pearl earrings was stolen. It was clear her manager, Katherine Demarski, had stolen them, but Ruby was hassled by the police about it. Ruby gets fired.
On New Year’s Eve, Letitia has a party, so Ruby goes and runs into Caleb Braithwhite in the neighborhood. He offers to take her to a club instead. They chat about their parents. Caleb says that now that his father is gone he finally has control over his life. Ruby tells him about her mother, Eloise. She was a “spirtualist”. Eloise and her best friend Ella Price ran their business from their hair salon, Two Els. Ruby thinks Eloise was mostly good at reading people and the rest was parlor tricks.
Caleb and Ruby dance late into the night. When they exit the club, two muggers with guns see Caleb’s fancy car and demand his wallet. However, Caleb exercises some type of magical control over them, and Caleb and Ruby get away safely. Afterwards, Caleb offers Ruby a job, but he needs to show her something first. He brings her to a townhouse.
The next morning, Ruby wakes up in the townhouse as a white redhead, with foggy memories of what happened last night. Ruby recalls Caleb offering a red vial of liquid. Horrified, she runs out and gets into a cab, which drops her off randomly on State Street.
Coincidentally, Ruby runs into Katherine who doesn’t recognize her. Ruby follows Katherine, who is wearing the stolen pearl earrings, into a department store. Ruby walks by and plants a scarf with the price tag still on it in Katherine’s pocket. Ruby then tells the police. At first Ruby is amused, but it breaks out into a fight when Katherine resists arrest.
As Ruby runs away from the scene, an officer stops her and asks if she’s running away from some black kids nearby. Ruby says no, but invites the officer to buy her lunch. Ruby gives him a fictional name, Hillary Everest, and makes up a backstory for herself. Afterwards, she goes in for a haircut and is served promptly. Ruby tells the hairdresser that she’s looking for a job, and the lady suggests an agency. Ruby confidently strides into the agency. Suddenly, she starts transforming into her old self, blood swelling out from her hands. She limps off back home.
Three days later, Ruby returns to the townhouse, thinking about how much easier her job search would be as Hillary. Caleb welcomes her in and explains that she had consented to taking the elixir that night, but she disappeared before he could check on her. He also admits that he meant to run into her that night.
He explains that in 1795, the coven of men led by Titus wanted to “harness the power of creation”, but got it wrong. He explains everything that happened with Atticus at the Braithwhite estate last June, and how he was involved with the purchase of Letitia’s house. The money was his, the realtor was working for him and the real estate company belongs to him (he was the owner of the property). He let Letitia move in so she could pacify Winthrop’s ghost instead of him, which ended up working out well.
Caleb wants Ruby to get information about the house. He knows the house contains secrets, but knows Winthrop’s ghost would hamper his investigations. Caleb is interested in if anyone has found things like books, maps, keys, strange devices or secret rooms. He then hands her another vial of red liquid and invites her to a party.
Caleb’s party turns out to be a gathering of a sorcerers’ coven, namely the Order of the Ancient Dawn. (Ruby has now transformed into Hillary.) Lodge leaders have come in from all over to attend. Caleb instructs her to go by the name Rose Endecott, and to just look pretty and listen to what people say, trying to pick up on pieces of information. The Book of Names is enclosed in a glass case, guarded by six men.
Partway through, Caleb addresses the crowd. His introduced by Lancaster, who is head of the Chicago lodge. Caleb admits to sabotaging the ritual that killed off his father and the rest of their lodge. Caleb says that he did it because he feels he has a better vision for the Order of the Ancient Dawn. He wants all the lodges to join together as one so they can share knowledge and finally progress forward. Caleb suggests that in order to choose a new leader, on Midsummer’s day, they each bring an example of their best work and let that be the deciding factor.
In exchange for a good faith effort at brokering a union, Caleb will provide them copies of the Book of Names. Later, Ruby sleeps with Caleb (as Hillary). She sees that he has a tattoo, his mark of Cain, on his chest, which he says keeps him safe. Afterwards, she agrees to work for him while he engineers this union. When it’s over, he’ll hand over the deed to this townhouse and a supply of elixir.
Later, Ruby chats with Letitia, Atticus and one of Letitia’s tenants, Mr. Fox. Ruby asks them what they think about the story of Mr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Mr. Fox makes the point that Mr. Jekyll (the “good” version) can’t be trusted since he’s telling the story and they’re the same man. Maybe Mr. Jekyll is just trying to duck responsibility by attributing all his actions to an alter ego.
A few days later, Ruby has now been running errands for Caleb. The latest one involved going into the Special Investigations, Organized Crime Unit and placing a charm near the desk of a Captain John Lancaster. (Lancaster thinks he will end up as the big boss of the Order, but Caleb has other idea.)
The next day, she goes into the basement of the townhouse and discovers a red-haired woman lying in a coffin-like enclosure with tubes for extracting her blood. (So, Caleb is using this woman’s blood to make the elixir.) Caleb claims that her name is Delilah, and that she had suffered an injury she would have died from anyway.
Ruby is horrified, and Caleb tells her she can leave if she wants, but the story ends with Caleb telling Ruby that she needs to decide who she wants to be.
Chapter Six: The Narrow House, Detailed Summary
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Montrose glares at a Coke machine that has been installed at John Perch’s Gas & Go. He shoos two boys away who try to buy a Coke, telling them to buy a Pepsi instead.
Two days ago, Caleb approached Montrose, asking for help to find Caleb Winthrop’s son, Henry. Henry ran off with a maid when he was 16 and took some of his father’s books with him. Caleb is interested in obtaining those books, especially Hiram’s research notebooks. Caleb thinks Henry living in Aken, Illinois and going by the name of Henry Narrow. Narrow auctioned off one of Winthrop’s books in 1944.
Caleb thinks Henry will be less suspicious if approached by a black man. He previously sent a detective after Henry, but the detective disappeared along with the 50 grand Caleb had given him. In exchange for Montrose’s help, Caleb will ensure his family is left alone when he takes over the Order, otherwise it’s likely something will happen to Atticus since he’s Titus’s direct descendant.
Montrose and Atticus go to Aken. At Narrow’s house, they meet David Landsdowne, a lawyer. He says that Narrow and his family were murdered in 1945. (David also tells them they have the wrong address. They are looking for 213 Elm Street, this is 213 West Elm.) David remembers meeting Henry’s family — his wife Pearl and their boy, Henry Jr. David had offered to help Henry obtain a house on this side of town. He’d warned Henry that’d likely find trouble on the other side of town being an interracial family.
Henry’s family moved in on July of 1945 and their place caught fire in August. The coroner had noticed indications Henry was murdered, but the police and mayor weren’t interested investigating. Interestingly, afterwards, the house was auctioned and purchased for a bargain by the police chief’s son. They (police chief, son, and mayor) went out to celebrate following the purchase. On the way back, they crashed into a tree and all died. The rumor is they’d swerved to avoid hitting a black woman and her boy. The house is still there, but no one lives there.
Montrose and Atticus head to the other side of town, and Atticus goes to ask for directions. A light-skinned black boy tosses a snowball at Montrose’s car. He runs after the boy, and he tumbles down a hill and he’s suddenly in summer weather, with winter on the other side. In the summery side, there’s a house. Montrose proceeds, and a black woman calls out to her husband, Henry.
Henry Winthrop/Narrow looks to be in his twenties, which was his age when he died. Montrose explains why he’s here, but he says his only real interest is in making sure Braithwhite leaves Atticus alone. Henry is fine with giving up the books, but explains that he wants something too. In the state Henry is in, there’s a lack of feeling or enjoyment of anything. He wants to feel something. Montrose notices a desperation and craving about Henry that makes him nervous. Henry wants to hear a story and won’t take no for an answer.
Reluctantly, Montrose tells a story about his father, Ulysses. There was a man, Dick Rowland, who was to be lynched for falling on to a white woman. The black people wanted to stop it and violence was breaking out between them and the white mob. Ulysses was worried about a family heirloom, Adah’s book. The family packs up their valuables in their car, but Montrose ends up in the cross-hairs of a gun fight. His father saves him, but gets shot and dies. Henry looks ravenous as he hears of Ulysses death.
Henry then talks about his own parents. Henry’s mother was a witch, who ended up in a wheelchair after a mistranslated spell. Henry’s father had been trying to create a doorway/portal to a distant planet. After that accident, Hiram began to rely more upon machines and young apprentices. Henry’s mother didn’t like him using (and potentially injuring) apprentices and wanted to leave him, but she needed to fix her legs first. She died trying to heal her legs.
Before she died, she knew the ritual might kill her. She left Henry with a set of instructions to get away from his father. He escaped with Pearl and became Henry Narrow. They eventually bought this house and used wards to protect it (his mother had taught him, assuming his father would come after him), but Henry didn’t know those wards only protected against sorcerers, not everyday people.
Suddenly, a mob of people show up at the front door, intending to harm the Narrows. Montrose watches as a gunshot rings out and Henry slumps over and a fire catches. In the midst of it all, he sees a vision of his father. (The implication is that the Narrow family exists in a limbo world where they relive the last day of their lives or something like that.)
Later, when Atticus finds Montrose, he is standing in the snow-covered Narrow house (in the real world), clutching a set of notebooks. Montrose tells Atticus they’re going to tell Caleb that they didn’t find anything here.
Chapter Seven: Horace and the Devil Doll
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Neville is a 13-year-old boy who is telling his friends, Horace and Curtis, about a recent racist encounter. He had been calling his grandpa Nelson to wish him a happy 55th birthday, but got yelled at by a racist phone operator who didn’t want to call a black man “mister”.
The boys arrive at the White City Comics Emporium, but Horace doesn’t go in because he promised his Uncle Montrose that he wouldn’t (the clerk had been racist towards Horace previously.) While Horace waits outside, Detectives Noble and Burke show up, wanting to talk to him.
They take Horace to a diner where they place a copy of The Interplanetary Adventures of Orithyia Blue (the one that had gone missing from Hippolyta’s car) on the table. They say it was found at the scene of an accident (when the creature attacked) that involved shooting, three men dead and two men missing.
Horace admits that the comic is his and went missing after he gave it to his mother. The detectives are well aware that Hippolyta travels around a lot for her work. The detectives ask Horace to ask his mother about it and report back to them. Horace agrees, with the plan of instead just telling his parents the truth about the detectives’ inquiry. But the detectives know that he is lying. Captain Landcaster is at another table and comes over. He does something that makes the rest of the diners disappear and does some sort of magic involving rubbing Horace’s head.
When he was seven, Horace accompanied Uncle Montrose to a warehouse on business. Horace had found a box adorned with a cartoon, depicting a freckled and bucktoothed black boy with a straw hat. It also had the label “Georgia N—-r Heads”. A white man explained that it’s a box of watermelons with dark rinds, which is why it’s called that. That night, Horace had dreamed about being in a produce market with black boys’ heads stacked up in a pyramid. It’s a dream that Horace still has when he’s anxious.
After the encounter with Lancaster, Horace is physically unable to tell his parents what happened with the detectives (it causes him to itch), and he has this same nightmare again. He dreams that the faces are those of his friends and so he has to try to save them. When he tried to tell his parents again, even thinking about it causes him to itch. Because he’s not able to speak, Horace tries drawing a comic to convey to his mother what happened.
Horace is one of the boys that helps with deliveries from the local grocery store owned by Rollo Danvers. At the store, he notices a tub of metal polish with a drawing of a black butler on it (which he nicknamed as Cousin Otis), seems to be staring and grinning at him. When he makes his deliveries, he also notices a black elf statuette (Black Pete) as part of Mrs. Vandenhoek’s Christmas display that seems to be watching him, too.
On Saturday, Horace and his friends play a war game in their clubhouse (the attic of the church), using various soldiers and characters to defeat an enemy. For their new foe, Curtis and Neville bring am ugly black doll, a Fully Poseable African Pygmy Devil Doll. As the boys argue over what to play, Horace notices that the doll is moving. He passes out.
Horace wakes in a hospital bed. His father says he stopped breathing. Hippolyta has left on a trip. She took the comic, but hasn’t read it yet. His friends come by later, but Reggie isn’t with them because he’s grounded. Reggie hit his sister June / “Bug” for wreaking their clubhouse, but Bug still claims it wasn’t her. The devil doll is also missing.
That night, George goes to a Freemasons meeting and has Ruby come over to watch Horace. They play Scrabble and he spells out in tiles about what happened with the detectives. Once she knew the gist of it, Horace was able to speak freely again. He fills in the rest. Ruby promises that she’ll help deal with it, she’d going to speak to a “friend” and tells him to stay away from the detectives.
The next night, Horace still hasn’t heard from Ruby. Rollo sends him out on one last delivery. There, he sees the detectives and tried to run away. He’s nearly his by a car Burke is driving. Suddenly, he sees the devil doll running towards him. After an extended scuffle, Caleb Braithwhite shows up and stops the doll, ripping its head off.
Afterwards Caleb examines Horace’s head. He tells Hippolyta that Lancaster has placed a mark on Horace, which brings inanimate objects to life. Whatever you fear tries to kill you. Caleb is able to remove the mark because it was done with saliva. (He says marks made with blood are almost impossible to remove.) Caleb thinks Lancaster was sending him a message. Lancaster has figured out (correctly) that Caleb plans to betray him. Lancaster must have assumed that Caleb sent Hippolyta to the observatory, and so wanted to kill Horace to punish Hippolyta for working with Caleb.
Caleb plans to kill Lancaster and wants their help.
Chapter Eight: The Mark of Cain, Detailed Summary
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George, Hippolyta, Horace, Atticus, Letitica, Ruby and a number of Freemasons show up to the lodge to discuss and share their experiences with Caleb Braithwhite. Ruby tells a modified version of her story, excluding her sexual history with Caleb or anything about Hillary.
Caleb has a plan to get rid of Lancaster (he is going to meet with him to discuss their differences, but it’s a ruse), which involves Atticus. However, collectively, they decide that they need to get rid of both Caleb and Lancaster. Ruby knows that Caleb has a tattoo that protects him, making him difficult to kill. They decide to consult Winthrop’s ghost. Montrose brings Wintrop’s notebooks as an offering. Suddenly, everyone around them is frozen and not moving, and an elevator shaft with a strange red light whirs into motion. Montrose (having previously had a ghostly realm encounter) tells Atticus not to worry and they proceed.
The next night, Caleb arrives to meet with Lancaster at the Glastonbury Country Club, with Atticus and some books in tow. Caleb presents Lancaster with the books, which makes Lancaster angry since he’d been told they’d be Hiram Winthrop’s notebooks. Caleb and Lancaster start to argue.
Meanwhile, Hippolyta and Hillary sneak up the back of the club (though Hippolyta still does not know Hillary is Ruby). In order to get into the main clubhouse, Hillary tears her dress so she can ask for help and the guards will let her in. When they do, Hippolyta and Hillary handcuff the guards. Hippolya gets in position to cut the power to the house.
Elsewhere, Letitia stowed away in Caleb’s car, and has a wand with a dragonfly on the tip. She ambushes Burke, who is guarding the gate, and touches him on the neck with the tip, and Burke instantly goes unconscious. She lets in Montrose and George and then takes out another guard with the wand, too. With the path cleared of guards, Pirate Joe, Abdullah, and Mortimer (all Freemasons) make their way into the ballroom of the house. Letitia goes to check for any other guards. Montrose and George head to the roof, armed with a potion.
As Caleb and Lancaster argue, Lancaster threatens Caleb with magic and brings in a group of thirteen men so they can overpower Caleb. Just as Lancaster moves in to attack Caleb, Caleb whistles and Montrose throws the bottle down through the chimney. At the same moment, Hippolyta cuts the power. The room is filled with smoke and darkness. Elsewhere, Burke awakes and attacks Hippolya, but Hillary shoots him.
Atticus and Caleb exit the parlor and go to the ballroom. When Lancaster and his men finally locate them, they both head toward one another, but Mortimer has discreetly placed a mark on the floor. None of them are able to move. Pirate Joe and Abdullah reveal themselves, with lanterns revealing the full extent of the marks on the floor.
Caleb goes to retrieve a knife and parchment to kill Lancaster, but Atticus asks to do it instead. The others leave the room, and Atticus performs the magic. A creature comes out and swallows up Lancaster, Noble and the rest of the crew. Before it leaves, it uses a shadowed tendril to pop open the safe (with the Book of Names inside). Caleb goes to check on the book, and when he turns around Atticus surprises him by placing a palm on his chest and beginning to recite. Caleb is unable to free himself. When Atticus is finished, Caleb’s mark has been altered.
They put Caleb into the trunk of their car and drive to Indiana. They drop him off unceremoniously. Atticus tells him at the mark on his chest will make him sick if he tries to do magic and bars him from going into certain areas, like Chicago or Detroit, etc. They drive off.
Hippolyta asks Letitia to get the combination from Wintrop so she can go back and find Ida and tell her what happened to Pearl (despite Ida having tried to kill her with that monster).
Ruby (as Hillary) goes back to the employment agency, introducing herself as Hillary Hyde, looking for a new job.
George, Montrose, Atticus and Horace put the rest of the money Caleb gave George into a safe. The book ends with Atticus and Montrose agreeing to take Horace along for their next trip around for the Guide.