There’s something curiously old-fashioned about Wychwood. The female journalist moving home after a relationship breakup; her former friend, now a policeman; the rural village setting… it’s charming, in a Midsomer Murders sort of way.
Cosy, even. But while straight crime can be cosy – Agatha Christie still sells – the ritualistic, flamboyant killings and an element of the supernatural don’t really go with the overall tone of the novel. Reading it, you keep expecting things to get nastier, to feel more sinister, but they never do. The killings are, when you think about them, horrific, but they don’t feel that way when you read about them. The only real tension comes from wondering when you’ll get to a really scary bit. (Spoiler: you don’t.) Everything is too soft, too smooth, too rounded, to the point of being unrealistic.
Elspeth slides into a job with the local newspaper in a matter of days, somehow is able to accompany Peter in his investigations without either suspects or his bosses raising an eyebrow, and clues are dropped just where they’re most convenient – though you’ll put things together long before Elspeth and Peter do.
All this cosiness could be forgiven if there were something sharper and edgier to counterpoint it, but in the end this is a horror novel that’s just too nice for its own good. Miriam McDonald