This superb novel takes gothic horror to a most frightening level. The horrible bits are stomach churning, made more acute by the contrast between these sections and the rest of Mordant’s elegant prose. What is Emma escaping from and why is she headed to the very cool sounding Flammark – a seemingly chocolate-box village? There, she is taken under the wing of the robust Gabby ‘The Gab’ and charming young vicar, Will Turner. Emma takes a job, working for Dr Robbie Mason and quickly learns that something is wrong – there is a strange lassitude sickness going around Flammark and, as the novel progresses, she becomes aware that she is somehow an integral part of events. Her interest about the whereabouts of missing girl, Abby Chater, rekindles an investigation, with DI Westen and his ‘zebra’ theories kicking at her heels.
Mordant is a sensual writer and I love her descriptions; I could picture the intricate cabinets and desks with brass lamps and green shades. I also love how Emma decides the denomination of the church by its smell. Mordant’s writing style has a nervous edge to it and because you are bathing in the vivid details, the horror, when it arrives on the page, hits you hard. It is startling – like finding an earwig amongst a bunch of dahlias.
All along Mordant plays to the rules of the genre, lingering on ‘tethered curses’ and relationships buried in dark history, and yet she makes it feel fresh. Who is the stranger in the dark overcoat? What is the strange affliction which is causing Will’s congregation to dwindle in numbers? She also makes the reader question responsibility and culpability – how much is your personality at the whim or control of another’s? A lot of the characters are very endearing and, at one point in the book, I genuinely whispered ‘oh no!’ out of worry for one of them! I like how the beginnings of a romance are weaved into the plot and also found the ending satisfying.
A novel bursting with curious pendants, strange cabinets, caskets which are impossible to open, missing daughters, sugar plantations and pineapples, blackbirds, stinking fog and rictus smiles. I now know the difference between a corbel and a gargoyle and who would have thought that being evil was such thirsty work! I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Flammark and its inhabitants.
Amazon/Goodreads Review *****