|Reviewer: Maureen Carlyle
Maureen Carlyle is a reviewer, past judge of the Ellis Peters Award and is involved in the theatre and a keen archaeologist.
Jenni Mills’ second novel is set in and around the Wiltshire village of Avebury in two time zones - 1938 – 1942 and 2005, with quite a bit of the 70’s thrown in. In 1938 Frannie, a bright and attractive village girl, is thrilled to get a clerical job at Avebury Manor, the home of Alexander Keiller, the marmalade millionaire, who for some years has been funding archaeological excavations at the famous stone circle that surrounds Avebury. His ambition is to find the stones that are buried beneath the village and re-erect them, although this involves demolishing some of the village houses, including the one in which Frannie lives with her parents (they are all his tenants).
In 2005 Frannie’s granddaughter India is working as a television cameraman shooting crop circles from a helicopter, an experience which she finds terrifying. With her in the helicopter is her director, Steve, and a small party of American tourists whose fares will save the television company some expenses. Steve persuades Ed, the pilot, against his better judgment, to fly very low over a crop circle and the helicopter crashes. The only fatality is Steve. This experience is so traumatic for India that she blames herself for Steve’s death. John, a former boyfriend of India’s late mother, persuades her to come and stay in Trusloe (the replacement village for those who lost their homes because of the excavations) with her grandmother, Frannie, who is in failing health. John is a practising shaman, closely involved with the pagan and druid cults which flourish in and around Avebury and Stonehenge.
India finds a temporary job in a local café, but her trauma does not improve, because as well as terrible memories of the air crash, her strange childhood as the daughter of a 70’s hippie returns to her in vivid flashes. There were violent episodes in which she and her closest friend, a boy named Keir, were involved.
In the meantime in 1938 Frannie is desperately in love with Alexander Keiller, who is a legendary womanizer, but in turn is being pursued by his assistant, Donald Cromley. Keiller and Cromley are pursuing their mutual interest in the occult, and Frannie gradually gets drawn in to this circle. Frannie also has a local boyfriend, David, who works as a chauffeur for Keiller.
In the present, India has never known who her grandfather was, but Frannie refuses to be drawn on the subject. India finds David’s grave in the churchyard - he was in the Air Force in the Second World War and was killed in action.
The stories of the two women each slowly work up to an exciting climax and all the secrets are revealed. I would describe the book as a mystery thriller rather than a crime novel, although plenty of crimes occur in it. Jenni Mills’ research on the archaeology of the area is very sound.
I feel that the novel could do with cutting a bit, and the reader does occasionally get confused as to which time zone they are in, particularly as there is a very large cast of characters.