Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
This book contains a set of episodes which have a common theme but can be read as separate stories. The tor overlooks the village of Batsford and exerts a sinister influence over its inhabitants. Seductive and mysterious strangers, disappearances and murders all fit into a pattern which few people notice until it is too late.
Morgan-Clark creates an atmospheric narrative, often told in the first person, with a convincing immediacy. The stories have a strong sense of place, not just on the tor itself but in the local towns and the wider countryside. Daily life in the village is particularly well evoked in the second story, which concerns three teenage boys at the start of the summer holidays. But in each story, we are given a feeling for the pubs and cafes, the beach, the shops people visit and the cars they enjoy driving.
Most of the stories are told from the point of view of a boy or a young man. Their characters are well drawn and we are given a sense of lives that exist beyond their immediate troubles. But, perhaps inevitably, we are aware of the female characters, human and otherwise, as they are perceived by the men and in relation to the men, not as having a life of their own. One story, The Cauldron, towards the end of the book, has a female protagonist, but that isn’t enough to counteract the one-sided impact of the rest, at least for this female reader.
The outcome of each episode is clearly signalled from early on. For me, this meant that the shorter stories were the more effective in offering unsettling glimpses into the supernatural. In the two longest episodes, the struggles of the principal characters, Joseph and Andrew, were so long drawn out that they became oppressive rather than frightening.
The dangers of the tor are well grounded in folklore and tradition and all the more powerful for that. If you want an excuse not to venture into the English countryside for your holidays, reading this book might provide the answer.