The Winter's Child by Cassandra Parkin

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The Winter's Child by Cassandra Parkin

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Category: Paranormal
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Modern gothic with a humane and sensitive rendering of the central characters. One you'll stay up to finish.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Legend Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1785079030

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A modern Gothic tale of twisted love, secrets and hauntings it says on the cover. I'll go along with that. Suzannah Harper doesn't believe in life after death or gypsies being able to tell the future, but that hasn't stopped her spending a fortune on psychics and fortune tellers in the desperate hunt for her son. Joel has been missing for five years. He skipped out of school one day after an argument at home and has not been seen since.

The police investigation went the way these things do, suspicion falling first on the family, searches in the likely places, but with no leads, there is no news. In the beginning, Suzannah did whatever she could including the psychics and fortune-tellers, but over time she came to understand how they prey on the vulnerable, she stopped believing and started blogging about how she carried on in the circumstances. Life without hope she calls it…and we get to see some of her posts. Poignant, agonised, sharply realised – the words of a mother who doesn't know whether she is still a mother or not.

Skipping backwards and forwards through Suzannah's memories we are drawn into what life was like before Joel went missing: the love, the jealousy, the anger, the protection, the challenges. A family in which everyone was trying very hard – and most of them were failing. In the present, despite her misgivings, she goes again to the fortune teller at the fair and learns that by the end of the year she will have found her son. In the meantime, there are two people who will come to her, and come to love her, and she will break their hearts.

The people come – a new friend and an old acquaintance – the prophesies fulfil themselves and the hauntings start…visions…hallucinations? Messages from somewhere beyond? Or is simply finally collapsing into the madness of sustained grief?

The real triumph though is in the characterisation of Suzannah and her new friend Jackie, another mother with a missing son. The two could not be more different and yet their reactions are all believable, the early days of media focus and hope and then the long years afterwards – the struggle to build a life when you don't feel that you are allowed to be happy because what if you are, what if they come back and you're happy – how will they feel then? The anger, the coping strategies…

Of course, it's not possible to read this without thinking of the high-profile cases, but not every missing person makes the headlines and behind every one of them, there will be a story which in parts at least will resemble this one.

Wendy Holden talks of Parkin having a painterly eye for detail and when you read the walls bloom with outsized green roses that make me think of absinthe and arsenic you know what she means…but the detail isn't only in visual. She also has a sharp turn of phrase for touch 'his hand is clammy. It's like holding hands with a frog, like touching an internal organ lifted out onto the cold autopsy table.

The cues as to what happened are clear through-out, but the tension is as taut as you'd want. This one had me sitting up till gone two in the morning wanting to finish it. Brilliant on every level.

For more of Parkin's wonderful characterisation, we can recommend her debut novel The Summer We All Ran Away. We also loved her Underwater Breathing.

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