EIGHT MINUTE FARM
Matador RRP: £7.99 Pbk
Released: 4th November 2010
Reviewer: Sara Townsend
Sara-Jayne Townsend is a published crime and horror writer and likes books in which someone dies horribly. She is founder and Chair Person of the T Party Writers’ Group.
Stilliard gets sunstroke on a walking holiday in Yorkshire and sits down
in a railway station feeling faint. The next thing he knows, he’s in
front of a farmhouse – “Eight Minute Farm”, the worn sign says – with no
idea how he got there. After spending some time at the farmhouse and
meeting the MacDonalds, he finds himself back at the railway station.
Back at his school, term starts again and Stilliard’s colleague, Philip
Graham, leaves the school abruptly under a cloud, following allegations
of abuse of a student, and his flight takes him into the path of Eight
The convoluted plot is just one of many problems with this book. What jarred immediately for me is the peculiarly old-fashioned writing – there’s a great deal of ‘telling’ not ‘showing’, and no emotional connection with any of the characters. The schoolgirl whom Philip Graham gets pregnant, Sandra Spile, is 15. Initially besotted with him, she insists on running away with him. When Philip knocks down the unfortunate Ian MacDonald and leaves him for dead in the road, Sandra suddenly decides Philip is a cad and scurries off back home. In the year the book is set – 1985 – I, too, was a 15-year-old schoolgirl. But I had no emotional connection at all with Sandra, and she didn’t seem in any way to be a contemporary. I also feel that when a 15-year-old finds herself pregnant by her teacher, there’s a crucial conversation that needs to be had about what she’s going to do, which was noticeably missing from the book. It is taken as fact that Sandra keeps her baby – if she’d considered all the options before arriving at her decision, she might have come across as being more “real” as a character.
What really lets this
story down, however, is the explanation of how Stilliard came to be at
Eight Minute Farm in the first place – the mystery of which is the main
driving force of the plot. The implausible explanation, when it finally
comes, seems to be a vehicle to prove the existence of God. In a
straight crime novel containing no other hint of supernatural activity,
we would not accept an airy statement that “a wizard did it” – the only
explanation offered is just as bizarre and out of place.
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