Bolton, S J - 'Blood Harvest'
The Fletchers, have just moved to live in the quiet country village of Heptonclough in a new house next to the church. They have three children, Tom (aged 12), Joe (aged 6) and their little sister Millie who is just 2 years old. Tom is finding it hard to settle in at school, is taunted by other children in his class, and thinks he can see someone hiding out amongst the gravestones, someone who is watching their house. Harry is the new vicar, for the local church, which is just re-opening after being left unused for some years. He is relaxed, not like a vicar at all, and is very very charming. Evi is a psychiatrist, who has just started treating one of the villagers called Gillian. Gillian had a young daughter that was apparently killed in a house fire one night, when Gillian was out, and still has trouble coping with her guilt. Evi is partially disabled, through damage to her sciatic nerve, and needs a walking stick and sometimes a wheelchair. She finds Harry very attractive. And finally, into the mix, is the Renshaw family, who own most of the village.
As the story opens, the police are investigating the contents of the grave of the young daughter of Jenny Pickup, who died when she was a toddler. Jenny is the daughter of Sinclair Renshaw. Something has fallen on the grave and disturbed it, but instead of just finding Lucy Pickup in the grave, there are two further corpses of small children. Who are they, why have they been placed in Lucy's grave, and who put them there?
The first half of the book details the events in the six weeks leading up to the disturbance of the grave. These include Harry's first appearance in the village, his meeting with Evi, Evi's treatment of Gillian, and the gradual increasing feeling that Tom has that they are being watched by someone, and that his family is in danger. The second half then deals with the discovery of the children's bodies in the grave, and the subsequent investigation both by the police, and by Harry and Evi.
The plot is pretty straightforward, doesn't hold too many surprises, and is really what I would call armchair thriller. We all know it's going to turn out all right in the end, but it can get a bit scary along the way. There is an undercurrent to the story that reminded me of the film The Wicker Man but in this case, the story is set in a Yorkshire village, with children under threat, particularly 2-3 year old girls, rather than a visiting policeman. For example there are a few pagan rites that appear to need the blessing or at least the use of the church, which add to the menace, and people living in the village have quite a few secrets to be uncovered. A strength of the book is that the characters of Harry and Evi are particularly well drawn. The interactions between these two, their desire to find out what happened, and their determination to discover if what is frightening Tom is real, are very effective in helping to drive the story forward. Is there really someone watching Tom's family in the churchyard, is his family really in danger of something, or is he just making it up? Tom's fear, and his frustration with not being believed are very believable. Overall, this is a novel with wide general appeal. The story is well told, and is definitely one to keep you entertained on a long boring train journey, or when stranded in an airport.
Michelle Peckham, England