Jane Toombs | Avon Books | 1973 | 158 pages
Mixing witchcraft, medical mystery and nurse romance, Tule Witch immerses it young R.N. protagonist in a fog of deadly suspicion, which when cleared, reveals one of the doctors in her life to be her true love, and the other possibly a killer.
Bebe Thomasen, a young registered nurse working the nightshift at a small central Valley hospital, “senses” something outside in the fog beyond the emergency room doors. She discovers a bleeding and battered man on the ground, who whispers “witch doctor” before slipping into unconsciousness. After the death of her mother when she was eleven, Bebe’s father abandoned her to be raised by her grandmother, a woman steeped in the practice of witchcraft. Since her early childhood, Bebe has experienced similar episodes of prescience, receiving strong feelings that are sometimes forceful, but often ambiguous.
The mysterious man dies as a result of his injuries, leaving Bebe to explain to the local police the reason she left her post to look around outside the hospital grounds. Bebe develops some suspicions regarding two doctors, and rivals for her affections, Dr. Jed Edgington and Dr. Harold Davies. Jed, a powerfully attractive African-American with a bouffant hairstyle, and Harold, his more passive but compassionate green-eyed colleague, were both scheduled to be away in San Francisco at a medical conference, yet both were somehow present at the time the patient was admitted. The mystery deepens when the man’s body disappears from the morgue, although the attendant on duty failed to see anyone either enter or leave the facility.
Bebe also harbors a deep family secret, a developmentally disabled child now institutionalized in the state hospital. Bebe’s grandmother arranged for an occult ritual coupling under the moonlight on her isolated cabin’s grounds with Gill Saginaw, a wild, red-haired warlock hand-chosen by Grandma Thomasen to conceive a child for Bebe, and to produce an heir to the family’s cabalistic tradition. Bebe later delivered a son, a misshapen deformity with a gargoyle face and a pointed head, but who triggers psychic visions in his mother. Before (apparently) dying in a second attempt at conceiving a child, Gill curses Bebe, invoking a death spell on her if she ever is with another man.
With the persistent valley fog setting the stage, Tule Witch establishes an intriguing atmosphere of mystery, with the missing dead man driving open the deep secrets in Bebe’s occult family history. Bebe’s multi-racial background triggers a slight, but ugly touch of bigotry in the familiar love-triangle set-up that fails to be fully explored, and Jed’s family only serves to provide misdirection towards other possible sources of occult influence. The introduction of the possible viral outbreak drives the focus away from the supernatural, and the inevitable showdown with Bebe’s baby-daddy fails to establish his character as anything other than an arbitrary bogeyman.