Jacqueline (Jack) is both a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a vicar. When she is asked to take charge of Chapel Croft, she finds herself moving to a remote village and devoting herself to a chapel with a dark history.
Centuries ago, protestant martyrs were burned at the stake there. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared. And a few weeks ago, the vicar of the parish hanged himself.
When Jack’s daughter begins to see specters of girls ablaze, it becomes apparent there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.
CJ Tudor is an auto-buy author for me because her books are fast-paced and full of surprises. She writes horror-tinged psychological suspense that includes a twisty-turny mystery and dabbles in dark supernatural underpinnings. It’s a fun blend that I’ve come to love!
This book seems to layer in a snappy, pop feel, in part because of cheekiness in the dialogue between mother and daughter, in part because of the fair number of 80s and 90s pop culture references, which lends a postmodern flair. This helps to balance out and soften some of the darkness in the story.
The burning of effigies (aka, the burning girls) -- is based upon the actual history of Mary I (Bloody Mary) burning protestants alive at the stake in the 1500’s, which has led to real-life traditions in present-day villages of having monuments and burnings to commemorate those victims.
The relationship between Jack and her feisty daughter feels real, alternately tense and loving, as they struggle to shoe-horn their big-city lives into a remote countryside and deal with some of the strange and possibly dangerous townsfolk. I also appreciated Jack grappling a bit, even as a vicar, with her own faith, as she attempts to bring a more modern outlook as a “wo-man of the cloth.”
The thing that blew me away about this book is that there are a ton of characters and a large number of mysterious subplots, some of them taking place in the present day, some of them stretching back to the past, yet somehow Tudor does a brilliant job helping you -- the reader -- keep it all straight. She is just so adept at sneaking in reminders, dropping down breadcrumbs, crafting twists and doling out reveals.
And everything else is there, too. Strong, bold characters. Great, snappy dialogue. All of the descriptive elements that keep you feeling chills while you read.
As a trigger warning, this does include issues around bullying and child abuse.
Thank you Ballantine Books for the ARC!