Friday, 27 April 2018

Book Review: THE RETREAT by Mark Edwards

Title: The Retreat
Author: Mark Edwards
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Read: April 2018
Expected publication: 10 May 2018

“It’s like I dived into that river two years ago. And I’m still under the water, holding my breath.”

Book Description:

Two years ago, Julia lost her family in a tragic accident. Her husband drowned trying to save their daughter, Lily, in the river near their rural home. But the little girl’s body was never found—and Julia believes Lily is somehow still alive.

Alone and broke, Julia opens her house as a writers’ retreat. One of the first guests is Lucas, a horror novelist, who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Lily. But within days of his arrival, the peace of the retreat is shattered by a series of eerie events.

When Lucas’s investigation leads him and Julia into the woods, they discover a dark secret—a secret that someone will do anything to protect…

What really happened that day by the river? Why was Lily never found? And who, or what, is haunting the retreat?

My musings:

Take a spooky old house in a small, isolated Welsh community, connected to the disappearance of a small girl. Add a group of writers with overactive imaginations and a sprinkling of things that go bump in the night. Stir in someone who is prepared to do anything for the past to stay hidden and pour the whole mixture into a remote, eerie forest. Does this not sound like the perfect recipe for a delicious, spooky mystery? I thought so, and thoroughly enjoyed the taste of it.

Edwards has an engaging writing style that immediately drew me into the story – I love nothing more than a claustrophobic setting, and the old mansion turned writers’ retreat provided the perfect backdrop for this tale. Horror novelist Lucas Radcliffe has come to the retreat for inspiration to make progress writing his latest ghoulish book, but even with his vivid worst-case-scenario imagination he was not prepared for the dreaded “be careful what you wish for”. The eclectic mix of characters at the retreat, plus the mysterious goings on at the house made for a story I was loathe to put down, reading way too long into the night to find out the answers. Edwards’ writing style is engaging and I remembered how much I loved one of his previous books, The Magpies, for the very same reason.

Whilst Edwards delivers a solidly plotted mystery involving a missing child, he is also not afraid to throw some urban legends and local folklore into the mix to build intrigue and suspense. Haven’t we all feared them as a child, those stories of ghouls and monsters that snatch innocent children in the night, that prowl the forest in the moonlight and steal your soul when you utter their name? I remember one vividly from my childhood, a fanged wild eyed creature who was supposed to come through your bathroom drains if you called her name three times down the toilet bowl. It may sound strange, but even as a child who was always up for a dare, I never mustered up the courage to tempt fate (there were some big rats that could make their way up the pipes, so why not a monster?). In The Retreat, it is the scary figure of the Red Widow who is being blamed by some superstitious villagers for little Lily’s disappearance. This spectre, distressed and angry after losing her unborn child, demands one of the village’s children as a sacrifice every 35 years.

If this all sounds strange and a bit “out there” to you, don’t despair, because Edwards uses these local superstitions to their full potential, and they provide as much of a backdrop as the remote claustrophobic setting. And if you are really clever and pay attention, you will pick up on the trail of breadcrumb like clues Edwards leaves along the way to point you in the right direction. With a dual timeframe and two POVs, that of Lucas himself and that of the missing girl shortly before her disappearance, the mystery is off to a most intriguing start and had me totally engrossed. Readers who find it difficult to suspend disbelief may struggle with some elements in the ending, but I am usually firmly in that camp and still found the final denouement satisfying. There is plenty of action for those who need an adrenaline fix thrown in as well.


With its mix of mystery, action and suspense set in a claustrophobic setting against a backdrop of local folklore and superstition, The Retreat is a page-turning tale that will appeal to readers across multiple genres and those who enjoy a good story in which (in Edwards' own words) 'scary things happen to ordinary people'. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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