Monday, June 06, 2011

Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton

Protagonists: Rev. Harry Laycock and psychiatrist Evi Oliver
Setting: Heptonclough, England
Rating: 4.7
Alice and Gareth Fletcher have moved into a new home on the crest of a moor with their children, Tom, 10, Joe, 6, and Millie, 2. The house is snuggled in between an old church and the even older, crumbling church, with a graveyard in their backyard. Bolton writes gothic thrillers like no one else, and from the beginning she ratchets up the tension, just by describing the moors surrounding the house: “Sometimes, when clouds were moving fast in the sky and their shadows were racing across the ground, it seemed to Tom that the moors were rippling, the way water does when there’s something beneath the surface; or stirring, like a sleeping monster about to wake up. And just occasionally, when the sun went down across the valley and the darkness was coming, Tom couldn’t help thinking that the moors around them had moved closer.”

The tension increases when we learn two girl toddlers have died in mysterious circumstances in recent years, and that Millie may now be in danger. There’s also what appears to be a female ghost (or monster?) haunting the graveyard. The Fletcher children aren’t the only one seeing and hearing things; Harry, the village’s new vicar, hears voices in the locked church -- and later, even worse occurs. Like the Fletchers, he’s having a hard time adjusting to the insular town, which still holds on to old traditions, such as the blood harvest, in which animals are slaughtered. He finds a friend, and possibly romance, in Dr. Evi Oliver, a psychiatrist with a disability. Together, they try to unravel what’s going on -- and try to prevent the Fletcher children from coming to harm.

As in previous books, Bolton starts with seriously creepy happenings -- but the story evolves and changes midstream, into more of a psychological thriller. This makes the book even more compelling. And with its short chapters, riveting plot and engaging (and sometimes sinister) characters, the story will keep you hooked. Bolton is one of my favorite thriller writers, and Blood Harvest is one of her best, so far.

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