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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

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