Wychwood by George Mann
|Wychwood by George Mann|
|Reviewer: JY Saville|
|Summary: A solid contemporary police procedural, made unusual with a hint of the supernatural and a good sprinkling of history and myth. Enough is left open in the lives of the main characters for a series to follow on naturally.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: September 2017|
|Publisher: Titan Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Thirty-something Elspeth Reeves has lost her job and left her partner. Much as she prefers London, she decides to retreat to her childhood home in an Oxfordshire village for a short time to lick her wounds, but she arrives to find the neighbouring part of the Wychwood is a crime scene. Even broken-hearted journalists can't afford to pass up the chance of a story, particularly if they know they need to drum up some freelance work soon, so Elspeth can't resist sticking her nose in. With her childhood friend Peter the detective sergeant on the case there's an extra interest in it for Elspeth, and once she's spotted the connection between the ritualised murder and the local myth about the Carrion King, Peter and Elspeth pool their resources to try and uncover a serial killer.
George Mann is best known for his occult and supernatural tinged alternate-history mysteries (the Victorian-era Newbury and Hobbes series, and the 1920s Ghosts of… novels) as well as his Sherlock Holmes books, so a contemporary police procedural seems like something of a departure. However, I thought he handled it well and the choice of semi-rural location meant he didn't have to lose too much to technology: patchy phone signal, no CCTV, no digitised archives at the local paper. He's also carried the occult history through to this new series, with hints that the Saxon Carrion King and the tales of his magic have an element of truth to them. Certainly, not everything in the novel is sanitised with a rational explanation.
The tension builds well throughout the book, as the reader gets glimpses into the life of the killer, and further ritual murders are committed. It races along to the climax, with the fear that not only will they fail to stop the killer but also that one of the main characters might be in danger. There are some gruesome details but they're not lingered over, just touched on enough to make the point.
I found myself caught up in the folktale element, the Saxon magic and local myths and legends were interesting in themselves. I've read crime novels before where there are echoes of the past, or a local legend is the key to understanding what might be going on but this was unusual in that several people are interested to the verge of obsession: three local writers have tackled the Carrion King recently, and an Oxford academic has been researching him for years. Useful for red herrings, but also interesting to see slightly different interpretations or approaches.
A few minor quibbles stopped it from being a full five stars for me. Peter and Elspeth are said to have been close right into their teens, he still lives in his parents' old house a short walk from Elspeth's mum in the village, yet Elspeth didn't seem to have heard that he'd joined the police. I also felt like the Wychwood could have been made more of as a location, it felt more like a backdrop for the most part. However, that's me being picky and I'm looking forward to further instalments. A journalist partnered with a detective has plenty of scope for future investigations, and it will be interesting to see how much is made of the supernatural thread.
If you're in the mood for another thriller with elements of the supernatural you could try American detective novel Whisper in the Dark by Robert Gregory Browne or if you want something with a literary angle, the fabulous Spanish novel The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Wychwood by George Mann at Amazon.com.
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