Standalone or series
First time reading this author?
Why I picked this
The cover was so arresting that I wanted to read more. The blurb showed that it was at heart a book about the impact of crime, so that sealed the deal.
Review copy or purchase
Thank you to the author and online book club Pigeonhole for the opportunity to read for free and encouragement to leave an honest review.
What it’s about
In 1840 in a small town in Dorset a young choirboy drowns himself. Blame centres on the choirmaster who is known to be abusive. When the choirmaster disappears later to be confirmed murdered, feelings are split over relief that the man is gone to suspicion about the behaviour of four men in the immediate aftermath of the death. The story shows how suspicion and the fallout of the choirmasters actions impact on the residents of the town over a number of years.
This is a really interesting and cleverly written read. I have to give a very important health warning though – don’t judge this book based on the first chapter. Stick with it.
To be honest if I’d picked this up in a bookshop and skimmed the first few pages I’d have put it straight back down again. I found the style of writing extremely off-putting. It’s all told in present tense, with choppy sentences and descriptions like stage directions instead of narrative. Even the writer said it grated on him, but it is only the first chapter – although it is the reason I couldn’t bring myself to give this a five star rating. It switches to a more traditional narrative prose from then on to tell a very involving story.
It is however a sign of my main criticism of this book – the focus on style above all. The book is told through a series of almost short stories, with the events from chapter one echoing through each and down the years as the characters of this small Dorset town are all impacted to one extent or another. Each story/chapter is told with a slightly different style – sometimes being told in first person, sometimes switching perspectives, sometimes in plain English and sometimes in the rural dialect of the time. The author explains his approach in notes at the end of the relevant chapters. However, this isn’t what makes the book good – indeed as chapter one shows I sometimes detracts from the story. If you are interested in the writing process the it’s worth reading these author’s notes, but if you just want a book that entertains you can ignore these and you will still find a very good read.
The stories all stem from the death of a young choir boy in the opening chapter and the subsequent death of his abuser. There are many people with a motive for murdering the abuser and disposal of the body and fears of suspicion and actual suspicion haunts many people as the stories are told over the years. While no one misses the murdered man plenty of people pay for his death, and the question of whether the actual murderer will ever be uncovered is a backstory throughout the book.
An interesting book and very enjoyable – just remember not to be out off by that first chapter!