Juliet McKenna is well-known for writing high fantasy novels, such as The Tales of Einarinn. However, with The Green Man’s Heir, she delves into modern fantasy, set in Derbyshire. It’s a sort of fantasy murder mystery; it lacks the fast-paced action of, say, a Charlie Parker thriller, but it happily avoids the exaggerated and often unbelievable set ups of a cosy mystery.
Daniel Mackmain has a secret past, one steeped in folklore, which he’s managed to keep hidden most of his life. He works as a carpenter on various building sites, and even manages to carve in his free time and exhibit at craft fairs.
However, both his secrets and the hidden world he’s part of are threatened when the bodies of young women start turning up in a wood near where he works. With the police stumped, Dan feels an obligation to help them out by asking a few questions of the dryad in whose wood the bodies have been found.
This really is a character driven book. It has a slow start which focusses on Dan and builds up the details of his life. Little asides and carefully developed character traits give the novel a cast of characters that are so true to life, you could easily imagine chatting to them in the pub, or smiling at them across a crowded tearoom.
After the characters have all been introduced, I did find that the book floundered a bit. Luckily, this didn’t last long and a quarter of the way through, the action really steps up a notch. The stakes are raised and, because McKenna has spent so much time creating her characters in the reader’s mind, you really get drawn into the action and root for the protagonists.
The action in this book can be divided into two sections: the first taking place in and around Lambton Farm, the second at a country house named Blithehurst. I much preferred the second section of this novel as I found the character of Eleanor to be a good foil to Dan. They had fantastic chemistry without it being in any way romantic, which is refreshing. I also felt that there hadn’t been a deep connection between Daniel and any of the previous characters, whether human or ethereal, so introducing Eleanor allowed him to develop more in the second half than the first. In particular, I thought the sex scenes early on were a little out of place. Don’t get me wrong: they were competently written with a decent level of erotica, but they felt a little out of place in a novel with is a bit like a cross between Midsomer Murders and Supernatural.
After a stumbling start, I found myself unable to put down The Green Man’s Heir. If you’re looking for a book to read on your summer holiday, then this is it. The scenery, the folklore, and McKenna’s amazing knowledge of both carpentry and stately homes really brought this book to life. The ending was left open as to whether there might be a sequel; I sincerely hope there is as I really want to see Dan and Eleanor’s investigative relationship being taken to the next stage.
This novel is not a roller-coaster ride; it’s a slow careful drive through dark and sinister countryside, but one where you can’t tear your eyes away from the scenery or get over the idea that something unpleasant is lurking just around the next bend.