Wychwood

Written by George Mann

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


Wychwood
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99
Released: September 12, 2017
Pbk

According to legend the Wychwood was home to a ninth century outcast, the Carrion King, who killed his followers in various unpleasant ways when they betrayed him.

This being the Cotswolds, the story is milked exhaustively by opportunists trying to grab a share of the tourist trade.  Books have been produced, notably by an established author and the village book-seller, respectively competent and ridiculous according to an Oxford academic who is the leading authority on the subject. More immediately a young playwright has written a drama now being rehearsed by the local repertory company. So there is no lack of suspects when a woman is found murdered in the Wychwood, wearing a cloak of white swans’  feathers and attended by dead crows, the tableau apparently emulating the death of the Carrion King’s Consort.

The investigation is headed by DS Shaw, a somewhat obtuse cop,  prodded and prompted by Elspeth Reeves, who has come home, having lost her job and her partner in London, and is looking to reinstate herself as a freelance with the local paper. A professional liaison between cop and journalist is sustained by a covert sexual attraction and a book on ancient myths Elspeth finds in her old bedroom. This depicts in primitive woodcuts the deaths of the Carrion King’s followers.

Shortly after the first ritual murder more follow, some echoing the old horrors, others apparently random while two utilise magic and mirrors. We know this last by cunning glimpses into the killer’s mind and motivation but not, of course, his identity.

This novel is uncertain of its genre: police procedural, fairy tale or romance. It’s certainly not thrilling. Twisted spelling and grammar suggests it’s aimed at the more gullible American tourist although there are few of those who won’t wince at the misspelling of “all right” on almost every page. What happened to copy editors?



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