The sky is grey, oppressive and it is threatening rain, unusual for this part of California. This is perfect weather and atmosphere for writing about a British murder mystery set in the Northern England countryside. I can visualize the fog coming down over the moor and hear the dogs howling. Creepy. But, not nearly as creepy as the murder mystery Blood Harvest by Susan J. Bolton.
Blood Harvest is set in the fictional town of Heptonclough on the Pennine moors in Lancashire. The village of Heptonclough is a mysterious place that does not welcome strangers. All outsiders are viewed with suspicion and are not invited to the local ritual slaughter of animals for meat that is called “Blood Harvest”.
The bones from the ritual slaughters are stacked in piles to make “bone men”, which are ritually burned on All Souls’ Day. All Souls’ Day is a British religious celebration practiced by members of the Anglican Church on November 2. On this day the church faithful pray for the departed souls of members of their community—in Heptonclough the ritual has special significance because in recent years several children have gone missing, leaving no trace. Are they dead?
The Fletcher family are newly arrived in Heptonclough. Harry Fletcher is the new Anglican Vicar whose mission is to restore the unused and abandoned parish church and bring the congregation “back to the fold”. The handsome Harry and his family to take up residence their lovely new house situated in an isolated corner of church property. The house looks out onto the ruins of the old church and, of course, the cemetery. Imagine that, Harry built his dream house on the cemetery grounds. What was he thinking?
Harry is married to beautiful Evi, a psychiatrist who becomes the unwilling heroine of this story—eventually she must act to save the family since Harry is clueless to the dangers they face. They have three young children of whom the oldest is 12-year-old Tom, who has a sense of the impending dangers lurking about the church grounds. Tom worries about his younger sister Millie because he has heard the story of the three little girls who have gone missing in this village. The missing girls were disturbingly similar in looks to Millie.
This is a well crafted and truly creepy gothic mystery set in a believable English village. The gothic setting will be familiar to all North American readers who have seen any of the Sherlock Homes movies. However, the violence was overly explicit and there was more gore than I am comfortable with, even in a novel of the crime/suspense genre.
S. J. Bolton was recently in NY to promote the new novel and meet with her publisher Simon Schuster. They discussed the differences between British and American readers:
“One problem, I learned, is that British writers can be too dark for American readers. Too much blood, gore and on-page violence can be a really turn-off over here”.
S. J. Bolton (her blog).
There is more about her visit and her novels on Bolton’s blog (which is very nicely designed, by the way). I am uncertain about reading Bolton’s new novel, which deals with a modern-day “Jack the Ripper” copycat murderer. I, for one, am not ready for another “Ripper” novel.
Day 45: Blood Harvest (S. J. Bolton) (2010).