Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
John Murray, ebook, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
With the sudden death of five-year-old Ewan, Starve Acre has gone from the perfect family home to a haunted house. Juliette moves into her son’s bedroom, confident his spirit is still there and Richard throws himself in his work, researching the location of an oak tree that had once been used for hanging criminals, despite many warnings to leave the past where it is.
At Juliette’s insistence, a local group of occultists called the Beacons are brought to the house, hoping to find some rest for Ewan’s spirit. They appear to help Juliette but do they also awaken something dark, or were the warnings about the hanging tree being cursed true?
Written from Richard’s point of view, Starve Acre tells the story of a couple wracked with grief, trying to adjust to their loss in different ways. In that respect, an overly grieving mother and a work-obsessed father are staple characters to this type of story. What sets them apart from other grieving couple characters is that their marriage is not falling apart. They are not an effective couple during the book, but at no time is there a suggestion that they’ll go their separate ways, which I found as refreshing
However, where this book differs from other works about the incomprehensible loss of a child, is the folktale element involving the roots of a tree historically used for hanging and a bogyman type character called Jack Grey. It is hinted there is a connection between Ewan’s death and Jack Grey, but that could also be the fragile mental state of Richard and Juliette.
This is where the choice of location works perfectly. Set in rural Yorkshire, it is entirely believable that some still believe in old folk stories. Had the location been urban, this wouldn’t have worked. Nor would the characters’ deepening isolation. Richard and Juliette’s home is so far away from civilisation, they only have themselves and her sister, the outside world is treated as an annoyance.
While there are elements of this story that could lead to a comparison of Stephen King’s The Shining, and there are scenes of animal cruelty which might upset some readers, Starve Acre is subtle and understated which elevates it. Building suspense and tension, and leaving us without any definite answers, Starve Acre is full of sudden chills and uncomfortable scenes that stayed with me long after I turned out my lights. A must-read for fans of creepy and suspenseful horror.