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. http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com/
Schoolteacher Martin 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 Minute Farm.
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.
The most interesting feature of this book is the sub-plot of a school project that explores the beginnings of Greenwich Mean Time and its connection to Eight Minute Farm. I imagine that the farm and its part in the GMT story is factual, but this sub-plot only further complicates an already meandering and implausible story, and the characters are so two-dimensional that I didn’t really care about any of them.