What does 'Stasi' mean to you? To me, it’s the East German secret police, those who listened in on the lives of everyday East Germans and created a culture of fear and mistrust. I'm clearly carrying a lot of baggage from reading spy books set in East Germany as I could never get over the fact that the heroine of Wicked by Any Other Name is called Stasi.
Far from being an East German secret policewoman, she's an American witch, over 700 years old, who lives quietly in a small village with her friend and fellow witch Blair - until things start going wrong. 'Stasi' is short for 'Anastasia' and is presumably pronounced 'Stacey',
but I spent the whole book with a background feeling of grey streets, glum and downtrodden people, and hopelessness.
Stasi Romanov is far from hopeless, however. She's a bright, cheerful, friendly witch, which is why she is so upset when a woman in the town of Moonstone Lake files a lawsuit against her for damaging her marriage with a love charm. The lawyer appointed to this woman is the wizard Trevor Barnes, and when he and Stasi meet, Cupid clearly has something in store for them. However, not only do Trevor and Stasi have the lawsuit working against them but also the fact that some odd things seem to be going on in the town, particularly at the lake that Stasi and Blair think of as theirs. When the townspeople start to turn against Stasi, Blair and Trevor and it seems there are some powerful forces at work, Stasi has to call in some more of her witchy friends to see if they can protect those in town - and themselves - from a repeat of the events at Salem four hundred years before.
Despite the potentially serious subject matter (witch burnings), Wicked by Any Other Name is generally very lighthearted. The romance between Stasi and Trevor proceeds with minimal distraction, there is a side romance between Blair and the local carpenter, and we meet again characters from a previous book and see how they’re getting along. The cast list is actually fairly full in this book, but they are introduced over time so that it doesn't become confusing.
Unfortunately, the source of the problems in the town was clear as anything to this reader right from the beginning, so there was minimal suspense; I was only surprised the witches and wizard seemed so dim about what’s going on. The author's writing style occasionally grates, too - someone seems to have told her that every noun should have one or two qualifying adjectives, so we keep getting things like "returning a Warner Brothers Roadrunner glass to the shelf" or "midnight blue Jaguar XK convertible" or "small round tables covered with rich cream coloured silk and lace cloths," lots of spurious extra information that becomes fairly irritating and doesn’t add much to the story. None of the characters are particularly strongly drawn and the overall plot is fairly thin, but this is a reasonable enough read for light entertainment.