Cottam could dearly have used a brutal editor with The Magdalena Curse, because the scene-setting opening with the doctor watching over the sleeping child was off-putting in far too many ways. It was a departure from Cottam's style of opening as well as from his style of writing; it felt almost like a well-meaning layperson tacked it on and wrecked it. As result, I nearly didn't push past the scene and continue reading. I nearly went, "Oh yuck, this feels about as decent as American romance novel claptrap" and tossed it aside.
But I erred on the side of deciding to have a little faith, and things did improve once the action shifted to Bolivia and we learned the origin of the title.
Plot in summary: three soldiers walk into a canvas cathedral (an American, a Canadian and a Brit) in Bolivia. And no, it's not the opening for the world's worst joke. More like they blunder into a badly misinterpreted scene and the canvas cathedral is actually housing a meeting between two witches: one hideous, but more good than bad, by the name of Miss Hall, and one alarmingly attractive, and pretty much bad to the immortal bone, currently calling herself Mrs Mallory. Cantankerous by nature and massively offended by the American's rosary, Mrs Mallory errs on the side of cursing all three soldiers, then fleeing. Her curse, immediately gruesome to the American, soon leads to his death. Miss Hall begrudgingly heals the wounds of the Brit (sustained during some weird combat with red-eyed undead dogs). And then the Brit, Mark Hunter, pretty cranky at his comrade's death, heads off to find and murder Mrs Mallory. And so he does. He thinks.
However, soon after returning to England he finds that the next bit of the curse came true, leading to the Canadian's suicide. And yet our hero Brit carries on with his wife, the enigmatic Lillian I guess we're meant to be charmed by, has a couple of rugrats, and life's pretty sweet. Till the wife and daughter die, Mark is left with just his son Alex, and Alex begins having the dreams of dead people (including his two dead soldier mates). This, of course, is the third part of the curse.
Enter the rather patchily drawn local doctor who happens to (a) be a dead ringer for Lillian, (b) be ideally suited to caring for Adam and (c) have a totally secret witchy family past. I mean suspension of disbelief, am I right?
There are also weird half human/half wolf creatures partial to long coats and human women. Also, Nazis.
Look, this book is interesting, but is this review scattered? You betcha. Because that is how the book feels. It goes all over, forgets threads moments after beginning them, leaves too much unresolved, and then has a too-simple ending.
It's fun and interesting, but not satisfying, ultimately.