Friday, 20 September 2013

Book Review: BLOOD HARVEST by S. J. Bolton

Blood Harvest

Title: Blood Harvest
Author: S. J. Bolton
Publisher: Bantam Press
Read: September 14-16, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Twelve-year-old Tom and his family have just moved to a small town perched on the crest of the moor. But troubles begin when Tom sees a mysterious child lurking around the nearby churchyard.

Psychiatrist Evi is trying to treat a young woman haunted by the disappearance of her little girl. A devastating fire burned down their home, but even two years on she is convinced her daughter survived.

Harry is the town's new vicar, quickly befriended by the locals. But unusual events around the church suggest he isn't entirely welcome, and that this odd little town harbours a terrifying secret.

My thoughts:

I only just complained to a friend that I haven’t read a good ghost story for years – that was before picking up Blood Harvest from my local library. Being the last book currently out by S. J. Bolton which I hadn’t read, the feeling on finishing it was bittersweet (now I have to wait till she writes a new one), but like her other novels, it swept me up in nail-biting suspense and kept me up all hours of the night reading. Its creepy setting also managed to spook me so much that I was tempted to sleep with the lights on!

Harry Laycock has no idea what he has let himself in for when he accepts a posting as minister in the small village of Heptonclough in the Yorkshire Pennines. Surrounded by sweeping moorland, it sports two old churches with a somewhat shady history, and old pagan rituals which at times even manage to spook the pragmatic Harry. Being a newcomer, Harry soon forges a firm friendship with Alice and Gareth, another couple who have recently moved to the village and built their home on land which used to belong to the diocese, nestled in between the churches and surrounded by graveyards. He shares Alice’s concerns when their young sons Joe and Tom become fearful and disturbed, reporting that they have been followed by the ghostly presence of a very frightening looking “girl”, who is apparently trying to harm their two-year old sister Millie. According to the boys, this strange spectre may be responsible for abducting Millie out of the house one afternoon and abandoning her on a small ledge high up in the nave of the church, nearly resulting in a fatal fall. Although Harry suspects a prank by local youngsters to be responsible, he is dismayed to find out that a little girl has previously died in that very spot, also by falling from a considerable height onto the slate floor. Delving deeper into the village’s history, he realises that several young girls have fallen victim to fatal accidents in the recent past – and that Millie may indeed be in danger.

To say that I loved this book is an understatement – I was totally absorbed by its characters and setting from the very first sentence to the last word. To me, Blood Harvest contained everything that makes a brilliant novel – vivid characters, vibrant dialogue, a well-constructed murder-mystery and a dark spooky gothic setting. Bolton has a keen eye for detail and human behaviour, as well as a vivid sense of place, which allows the story to play out almost movie-like in front of the reader’s eyes. I love Bolton’s attention to detail, the small seemingly unimportant elements which later all come together in the final reveal.

Blood Harvest first introduces the character of Evi Oliver, a psychiatrist who features in S. J. Bolton’s second Lacey Flint novel Dead Scared. Like many of S. J. Bolton’s female characters, Evi is hampered by the legacy of her past, in her case a physical disability from a skiing accident, which means she has to deal with debilitating chronic pain on a daily basis. When Evi and Harry accidentally (in the true sense of the word) meet, it is not love at first sight – but they soon discover a kindred spirit in one another, and there is even the hint of romance at one stage. I often find romance a bit of a distraction in crime novels, but found Evi and Harry’s friendship touching, and for me it did not overshadow the main story in the slightest. Having protagonists which are not police gives the story an unusual perspective, one which I thoroughly enjoyed –Harry does make a wonderful amateur sleuth, whilst Evi’s profession allows insights into the darker elements of the human psyche.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good read, whether you are an S. J. Bolton fan or not. Whilst not a typical ghost story, it contains enough things to go bump in the night to make you snuggle deeper under the doona, and as most of Bolton’s books, its murder-mystery component is also not for the faint hearted. Another five stars from me – it just reconfirms why Bolton is on top of my list of favourite crime novelists. I am now eagerly anticipating her next book.

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