GORE IN THE STORE
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Written by George Mann. RRP £7.99. 336 pp
Out now from Titan Books
HALLOWDENE is George Mann’s sequel/continuation of a series started with WYCHWOOD, the general idea of which seems to be a merging of MIDSUMMER MURDERS with the WICKER MAN (not to mention various other occult-themed brit-horrors). The result, however, is much more than a mere mishmash of two well-known icons of British pop culture, and I can’t but report HALLOWDENE to be a rip-roaring success. The book successfully follows its predecessor by giving us another well-told crime-thriller novel with clear tones of folk horror. This time it’s the village of Hallowdene that’s the centre of the story and the mysterious Witch-Stone, which is the final resting place of Agnes, a young woman persecuted for being a witch who has become something of a tourist attraction. Enter Elspeth, the journalist and heroine of the previous WYCHWOOD along with her partner and lover Peter, a policeman who was the joint protagonist of the last book. Together they become embroiled in this new mystery and seek to learn the truth about what occurred to Agnes and the slew of mysterious deaths that have happened since the excavating of the ‘Witch Stone’.
Straight away something drew me to George Mann’s writing was his incredible ability to capture an authentic rural atmosphere. There’s a particularly amusing sequence about a third of the way through the book in which a character introduces a London based friend to a local pub and apologises for…shall we say the ‘rustic charm’ of the place. As an individual who has semi-recently relocated to Wiltshire, I found myself roaring with laughter during this and many other similar moments. After all, I’ve put my friends through all-too-similar situations. Indeed the village of Hallowdene is so authentic that that’s one of the main draws of this wonderful novel. Anyone interested in rural-based or ‘folk horror’ really should do themselves a favour and pick this up as the world Mr Mann creates incredibly alluring.
What of the other aspects? Well, straight away the characters featured in the previous novel are given space in which to expand. Events that occurred in WYCHWOOD are alluded too but not in a way which may alienate or exclude anyone who hasn’t had the chance to read that particular book. Elspeth and Peter are again the main protagonists but presented in a sense which would allow a new reader to experience them as new. Indeed it’s here that I must confess to not being familiar with WYCHWOOD and was able to enjoy HALLOWDENE without feeling left out. However, the various references to ‘the mystery of the Carrion King’ left me suitably intrigued to go off and order a copy of said book.
The mystery itself, while perhaps drawing on some well-used clichés and genre tropes manages to subvert, and honestly, it doesn’t seem to be what really interests Mr Mann, admittedly some of the characters are a little trope ridden, as is some of the dialogue. However, it’s in the descriptions of the world they inhabit and the thoughts inside their heads that Mann’s talent lies. The main focus of HALLOWDENE (as its title suggests) is its little village and the people stuck within it. The divide between this bizarre rural village somehow trapped in its own past and the modern world that lies only a few miles away, that somehow still seems to be a wholly separate world. A wonderful work.
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