The bestselling author of Richard & Judy Book Club hit The Cold Season returns with a chilling mystery – where superstition and myth bleed into real life with tragic consequences
Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth – but was she really a changeling, as her husband insists? Albie Mirralls met his cousin only once, in 1851, within the grand glass arches of the Crystal Palace, but unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak, a village steeped in superstition.
Albie begins to look into Lizzie’s death, but in this place where the old tales hold sway and the ‘Hidden People’ supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just a step away
From Netgalley in exchange for a review, this is very much in the style of a Gothic Novel, with the potential for the “hidden people” to be influencing events at every turn.
Albert (Albie) Mirralls is working at his father’s firm in the city, and he goes to the Great Exhibition of 1851, where he meets his cousin, Lizzie, and her father. Despite them only meeting the once, Albie convinces himself that he is in love with his first cousin, and that they would someday meet again and marry. However, a decade passes, Albie has married Helena, and is stunned when he hears of Lizzie’s violent death at a still relatively young age.
Helena can’t understand her husband’s distress over the death of a distant relation he met only once. When he hears that Lizzie was killed by her husband, who had come to believe that she’s a changeling, Albie sets off for the Yorkshire village of Halfoak, to investigate…
Lizzie is found to be still unburied, her burnt and putrid corpse not even laid out properly. Albie arranges for the funeral to take place, but the locals that do attend do it pitifully, and the rest of the locals simply don’t turn up either at the church or the graveside. As a rationalist from the Big City, Albie makes a point of not believing in or not understanding local superstitions, such as that Lizzie shouldnt be buried in green (it’s their colour) or on a Friday (because it’s unlucky) etc.
Helena arrives from London, seemingly still upset that she is still being ignored in favour of this distant relative. She often comes upon her husband, only for him not to recognise her – is she bewitched somehow, or is she even a changling herself? Despite her objections, rather than leaving after the funeral, they move into the house left behind by Lizzie and her now imprisioned husband as Albie begins to investigate what has lead to this horrible situation.
To be honest, this is as far as I got. I’ve read other reviews that say that pacing was patchy and/or slow, only to pick up in the second half and I hope that this is true. Littlewood has produced what was a very good Gothic-esque story that I was just not able to complete. Even the secondary characters (such as the Innkeeper) were well drawn, even in his apparent shiftiness.
So I seem to have been one of those people that didn’t push through to the end, but I hope others get to persevere!