Monday, May 20, 2024

Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White

I picked this book up off the top of the nearest pile a couple of days ago, and absolutely loved it - it's a slightly tongue-in-cheek examination of what is on the surface a picture-perfect village full of entirely admirable and apparently happily married gentry.

The architecture is a pleasing mix of Tudor, Queen Anne, and Georgian, there's no train line to bring day trippers, all of the old families have adequate private incomes. And yet can anything really be so perfect? No, it can not, and a poison pen letter is proof that something is rotten underneath all the surface glitter. There are rumours, and social distance, more letters bring more fear as neighbours start to distrust each other and want to guard their own secrets more closely. 

There are clear hints about the over all culprit early on in the book, along with some splendid red herrings, but the overall point is to examine how a hint of blackmail and the pursuit of social power corrupts good people, and how the appearance of goodness matters more than the real thing for many. It's clever, amusing, and not very murdery and I highly recommend it for a lazy afternoon. 

What really interested me though is that it's the third or fourth book I've picked up recently that is thematically similar - all by chance, there hasn't been a reading plan. Oscar Jensen's Hell and Death (big fan) and Jill Johnson's Devil's Breath play with some of the same ideas, and so did Susan Stokes Chapman's 'The Shadow Key' in a different direction. On a dark and stormy night in January (storm Isha in the Borders to be specific) we were amusing ourselves by plotting a murder mystery along the same lines.

I have a lot of books, and so it's fair to say there will be a book for every mood, but they're not well organised and I wonder how it is that these books are finding me at the moment - it could almost feel like they were following their own algorithm - serendipity is a weird thing. I'm also a very big fan of the current publishing trend (is it a trend yet? I feel like it is) for crime books which go low on crime, big on mystery. If this sounds like your thing Fear Stalks the Village is a fabulous starting point. 

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