Author – Sharon Bolton
Published – 2018
Genre – Crime fiction
The story is told across two timelines. The book opens in the present (1999) with a dramatic scene in a graveyard, as it transpires a location that has some prominence within the story; it’s the funeral of Larry Glassbrook – former casket (or coffin) maker and convicted child-murder. The story is told in the first person by Florence Lovelady, now an Assistant Commissioner in the police, who has returned to the place, and the case, where her career was made. She and her teenage son are staying in the village for a couple of nights which seems to be in order bring some closure for her. As the day of the funeral unfolds the disturbing and chilling details of the death of the final teenager to die are revealed and it becomes clear why Glassbrook was so reviled.
While in Sabden Lovelady takes a trip to Glassbrook’s house, where she roomed as a WPC when she was in the local police, while there she makes a discovery that makes her wonder if Glassbrook acted alone and implies that she may now be a target.
The story then skips back to 1969, the disappearence of the teenagers and the investigation to find them. This is a ‘Life on Mars’ type of leap, where the male-dominated force didn’t take kindly to any input from a woman, WPC or not. Sabden is a villlage in the shadow of the infamous Pendle Hill and not a welcoming one for the young Flossie Lovelady. So Lovelady is an outsider in lots of ways but seems to be the brightest person on the force – picking up on clues no-one else spots and eventually becoming a target herself. The location isn’t used by chance – the connection to the Pendle witches and the history of witchcraft is an important one and Lovelady herself finds a connection to some of the women in the local coven.
As the case is resolved the story moves back to 1999, Lovelady’s opened old wounds and yet again finds herself at the centre of the action.
I found the events of the case in 1969 a little flatter than most of Bolton’s police procedurals. It’s not a fault in the writing but a result of the structure of the story – giving the end of the investigation and the solution to disappearences upfront means that the opportunities for tension and jeopardy were reduced. Afterall, however damaged Florence may now be in 1999 we know that she survived whatever came her way.
The real tension and the real ‘creepy’ aspect of the story came towards the end of the book when the timeline returns to 1999 and Florence decides to pursue the idea that the case wasn’t resolved correctly. There is one scene when she is in a house in the dark at night that I found particulalry tense!
Even if this was a little slower in the middle than I would have liked it was still an enjoyable (if dark) story. Lovelady was an engaging main character although she could be frustrating and behave inconsistently at times – but then we can all be a bit like that! The setting and the hints of witchcraft are used with quite a light touch, particularly at the beginning of the book – I can be quite critical of the use of supernatural elements in crime fiction but nothing here felt out of place.