"The Sacred Well Murders" By Susan Rowland: Review/Giveaway/Interview

 by Kathleen Costa

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and links to purchase it. We also have a fun interview with Susan.

The Sacred Well Murders By Susan Rowland

For centuries, Holywell was the residence for women, witches some say, dedicated to prayer and service to the poor with their homemade medicinal remedies, but the Church and later by law made criminal any practicing of their witchcraft. In the past several decades, the women sought mainstream acceptance through training as therapists and becoming part of the National Health Service creating the Holywell Retreat Center, a place known for its therapeutic rehab…sans, of course, any practice of witchcraft beyond their own. Janet, the eldest witch, discovers, however, disturbing occult symbols and blood on the stones of the sacred “holy well,” and determined to stop any of the young women of the Retreat, especially her “gel” Sarah, from venturing into the dark, she hatches a plan. A plan that will entangle the one person she feels is strong-willed, practical, and determined enough, one who owes the Center a favor, and one who will already be at Exmoor College where exists another holy well, twin to Holywell…Mary Wandwalker.

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Image Source Chiron Publications
Mary Wandwalker‘s Depth Enquiry Agency (DEA), an agency the website says goes deeper than law enforcement has time for, has been hired by the wealthy Mr. Frederic North as chaperones for his daughter Rhiannon, who has a keen, if not obsessive, interest in her Celtic heritage, while she attends the Celtic Studies Summer School in Oxford—Sacred Waters of the Celts: Wells, Rivers, and the Great God Thames. Mary, also, saw no reason to deny Janet her request to have Sarah join them, and since Sarah was around the same age as Rhiannon, she included her as a member of the agency, but only for the duration of Summer School. Mr. Jeffreys, Director of the National Archives and Mary’s former boss with whom she has a long history, learned of the job, and hopes to engage her agency: check out Joe Griffith, one of the teachers, and his associates The Reborn Celts focusing closely on their activities outside of the classes. It seemed a straightforward enquiry, but a report dismissed by MI5 informs Jeffreys the mission needs an upgrade from information gathering to infiltration. He believes the Reborn Celts may be a front for terrorism, and although Jeffreys believes Mary and her team are just amateurs, they are respectable and perfect for the job at hand…get invited into the inner circle and participate in the secret Celtic rituals: Initiation, Immersion, and Solstice Uprising.

The stage is set…

The Sacred Well Murders Earns 5/5 Celtic Torcs…Compelling Page-Turner!

Susan Rowland has taken quite a mix of themes and woven them into a powerful reading experience: witches, witchcraft, Celtic legends, racism, and terrorists. Mary’s journey is impeded by her inexperience and complicated with former bosses and professors, several veterans from Afghanistan, secret connections, a valuable artifact, a dangerous cult, and multiple murders to make a very exciting page-turner. The “depth” of the engagement in this investigation highlights individual vulnerabilities and issues from the past and how easily both can be manipulated. The story doesn’t take time at the beginning to introduce characters and ease into the drama, oh, no…0 to 60 in just the first 38 pages. Then revving up with sacred rituals, poisonings, emotional breaks, kidnappings, and a nail-biting confrontation. Brilliant! The connections and background of the characters are interspersed in conversation and a third-person narrative providing a full illustration of the ethnicity and nationality of multi-generational characters with varied personalities and an explanation of their fears, tragedies, strengths, and motivations. Susan’s writing style is sensory-driven providing a clear picture of the various settings from urban to rural and emotions that liken to an exciting roller coaster ride. The well-developed plot and clever dialogue puts the idea of ancient religion and witchcraft as an undercurrent with fascinating insights into connections between climate change and sacred ties to nature and Celtic lore, but also addresses how the damaged cling to fanaticism. The book incorporates text messages and emails to present information for incidents that happen off the page, and is divided into short easily read chapters, just the way my OCD likes it, and, another favorite element—chapter titles. All in all, this is an excellent book I highly recommend, and although it’s only January, it is a strong candidate for a Top Favorite for 2022!

Be a Big Susan Rowland fan!

Susan Rowland, PhD, uses her academic background to write several books exploring “the psychology of the creative imagination, using Jung to excavate a lost feminine,” and because she’s always been interested in detective fiction, she was inspired to write the Mary Wandwalker Mysteries.

Facebook—Susan Rowland

Website—Susan Rowland Books

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is a 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying her retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband.

 Interview with Susan Rowland:

KRL: How long have you been writing? 

SR: I have been writing novels for six years. However, I have a previous life of academic writing of about thirty-five. 

KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?

SR: My first novel, The Sacred Well Murders, was published on February 1, 2022, which is the Celtic festival of Imbolc, sacred to Brigid, goddess of sacred wells! In the story, 21st century British Celts become dangerous because they are possessed by their gods. Our heroes are three flawed and marginalized women sleuths. Despite heartbreak and failures, only they can prevent another terrible sacrifice. We follow the crazy Celts along the the river Thames to their final plan: to release one of the lost rivers of London. We end with a dramatic confrontation on Waterloo Bridge. During the novel two characters appear from realm of death and magic: a sacrificed girl and the enigmatic ‘wife of Lir.’

Susan Rowland

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?

SR: I have two other novels in progress with the same three central characters. Otherwise, my earlier books include two scholarly studies of women mystery writers: from Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell and The Sleuth and the Goddess. Also, I have written eight books on C. G. Jung, creativity, feminism, and the arts. 

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

SR: Although I live in Ojai, California, I am a recent immigrant from London, UK and attended Oxford University in the 1980s. I wanted to take a very traditional mystery form and use it with twenty-first century material, such as the climate emergency and traumatized people losing a sense of what is real. Both subjects are very significant in The Sacred Well Murders. What I did not expect was that I would discover, through writing the novel, just how much Celtic sensibility around water sources and trees persist in me today. Of course, the novel is about how my roots in one continent continue to live in this one. 

As for the characters, I have long lived with the idea of a detective agency consisting of three unlikely women who become a sort of family. Mary Wandwalker, my main character, is an older woman who made too many mistakes in early life to be able to form a conventional family. She finds herself the protector of her son’s widow, a son she never knew. Also included is her dead son’s young girlfriend. Caroline, the widow, who suffers from chronic depression while Anna, the girlfriend, was trafficked. These women struggle with their vulnerabilities—discovering something magical and formidable when they work together.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work? 

SR: I absolutely aim for an exciting, fun read. However, I have a weakness for psychological experimentation. I care about my characters and so I want to help them find meaning in their lives. 

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can? 

SR: Like many writers, I have a day job, in my case teaching psychology and creativity at Pacifica Graduate Institute. For this reason, I aim to write most days while not having a fixed schedule. 

KRL: What is your ideal time to write? 

SR: Mornings, but not necessarily early in the mornings. Sometimes a space just before lunch can be bright and luminous.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it? 

SR: I wish I could outline. When I wrote scholarly books, I have a process leading to a detailed plan. That does not seem to work for fiction. These days I am at a place where I have the murder or main events in my mind before starting. For example, in The Sacred Well Murders, I knew there would be three big acts of sacrifice: first at a sacred well in Oxford University; second along the Thames towards London; and third at the site of the source of a lost London river on one of the three Celtic mounds: London, Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

SR: Oh, yes! I have a lovely agent and she sent a previous novel in this series out for years, and then this one. It was hard not to give up. The key I believe is to learn from the feedback, even when the book is being rejected.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story, in a bookstore or other venue? 

SR: Ah, here we are in Covid-land! I have not yet had an in-person signing. However, I did do an online talk about how my teaching of creativity and psychology lead to The Sacred Well Murders. Two-hundred and eighty people signed up and the talk is available on my website here: susanrowland-books.com/talks 

Also, on Saturday April 30, 2022, I am doing an open book club on The Sacred Well Murders. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or see my website for the links.

KRL: What are your future writing goals? 

SR: I am hoping to make the Mary Wandwalker mysteries into a series. In the first instance, I am working through the elements. The Sacred Well Murders is, of course, water, and I have novels on earth and fire almost completed. 

KRL: Who are your writing heroes?

SR: Well, it has got to be Jane Austen for writing in such trying circumstances with no encouragement. Also, I am inspired by Dorothy L. Sayers who said that Lord Peter Wimsey announced himself one day to her. She was poor and alone; he had wealth, charm, and devastating sex appeal. He transformed her world and went on to dazzle ours.

Thank you for interviewing me and for all that you do for the mystery scene. We write so that a better world may be reborn.

To enter to win either an ebook or print copy of The Sacred Well Murders, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line "well,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 12, 2022. US residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win. If entering via comment please include your email address so we can contact you. BE AWARE THAT DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS THERE MAY BE A DELAY IN SHIPPING THE WINNING BOOK. BE SURE TO MENTION IF YOU WANT PRINT OR EBOOK. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! A new episode went up this week.

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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. This sounds like a page turner! I would love a chance to win a print copy! Claire.denning.11 at gmail dot come.

  2. Great interview! Count me in the drawing!

  3. Sounds like a great read. I prefer a print copy.

  4. "The Sacred Well Murders" By Susan Rowland sounds like a fascinating and informative book to read.

    allibrary (at) aol (dot) com

  5. Sounds like an interesting read. Would
    love to win a copy of the book. thanks

  6. Great interview and sounds like a great read! I’d love to win a print copy! Luvs2read4fun@gmail.com

  7. New author for me, sounds good! tWarner419@aol.com


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