Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 August 2019 2019 from Sphere
In a dark, dark wood
In Summer 1990, Caroline and Joanna are sent to stay with their great aunt, Dora, to spend their holidays in a sunlit village near the Forest of Dean. The countryside is a welcome change from the trauma they know back home in the city; a chance to make the world a joyful playground again. But in the shadowy woods at the edge of the forest hide secrets that will bring their innocence to a distressing end and make this a summer they will never forget.
There was a dark, dark house
Years later, a shocking act of violence sends Joanna back to Witchwood. In her great aunt’s lonely and dilapidating cottage, she will attempt to unearth the secrets of that terrifying summer and come to terms with the haunting effects it has left on her life. But in her quest to find answers, who can she trust? And will she be able to survive the impending danger from those trying to bury the truth?
Two young sisters, Caroline, 13 and Joanna, 9 are sent to stay with their great aunt Dora, a woman with a colourful background, in a small village. Already these two children have been through a great deal. Their father has died; drowned in the most tragic of circumstances and their mother is distraught with grief and unable to cope.
Caroline is the magpie, always attracted by bright things; Joanna the more studious and creative, she will grow up to become a renowned pianist.
Caroline feels her mother’s grief most acutely, she shoulders some of the responsibility for it and it weighs heavily on her. In the Forest of Dean, though, there are things that take her mind away from their mother’s grief. The attractive local bad boy, Dean Fry is one of those things.
Told in a two timelines, the present day and the summer of 1990, A Place to Lie begins with Caroline’s death and looks backwards for answers to Joanna’s questions about why she died.
Rebecca Griffiths weaves a lavishly plotted tale in which all the characters in the Forest of Dean village of Witchwood are brought to rich life in a well described environment where you can feel the damp seeping through the cottage walls as well as smelling the cigarettes from the Sobraines smoked by the constant visitor to Dora’s cottage, Gordon Hooper.
Joanna and Ellie are friends, but Caroline is jealous. She’s jealous of a lot at the moment, but especially she is jealous of Amy, who flirts with Dean Fry. Caroline knows though that it is her Dean likes because Joanna has told her so. And after all, didn’t he find her a job in his family’s pub, clearing tables and glasses, so it must be true.
There are many, many secrets in this village. Caroline can guess at some of them, and she knows that there are people here who make her feel very uneasy indeed.
Griffiths elegantly infuses her surroundings with darkness, mystery and a slow building tension that is always there, building so that when you realise you are holding your breath, it comes as a bit of a surprise.
Atmospheric, creepy and threaded through with dark and twisted moments of real violence and cruelty, Griffiths has presented a picture of adults who ought never to be put in charge of anything, far less children.
As Joanna’s memories stretch back over the years in order to allow her to determine what really happened between her and her sister to make them estranged, she also has find out why Caroline was living in fear.
The answers to her questions will only be found by going back to Witchwood, but it is a journey she will make at her own peril.
Verdict: A twisted, dark, rural noir laden with creepy and suspicious characters and a plot that is both emotional and unexpected.
Rebecca Griffiths grew up in rural mid-Wales and went on to gain a first class honours degree in English Literature. After a successful business career in London, Dublin and Scotland, she returned to mid-Wales where she now lives with her husband, a prolific artist, their three vampiric cats as black as night, and pet sheep the size of sofas.