Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 from Michael Joseph
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review.
500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide
Welcome to Chapel Croft. For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten. And in a cose-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome. Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns. Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls? Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages? And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself? Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.
But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .
C. J. Tudor knows how to tell a creepy story that is going to make the hairs on your neck bristle and send shivers down your spine. Dark, spine-tingling and absolutely mesmeric, this is a 21st Century ghost cum horror story that absolutely works today.
It is deliciously dark and thrilling and kept me riveted for hours at a time. Jack and her teenage daughter Flo have come to the ancient Sussex village of Chapel Cross where Jack is to be the temporary vicar. Nether really wanted to come here from the bustling Nottingham city where Jack had previously worked, but Jack is out of options and this is where she has been sent. A fresh start is always good, right?
Chapel Croft has quite a history. In the 16th Century Protestants Martyrs were burned to death in the churchyard and local folklore has it that two of them, young girls named Abigail and Maggie now haunt the churchyard, warning of impending doom.
More recently the village has been preoccupied with the disappearance of another two young women. In 1990, two teenagers Merry and Joy, disappeared and never been found. Disconcerting enough, but when Jack learns that her predecessor did not die a natural death and then is given the creepiest of gifts, you know she is in for a bumpy ride.
Central to the success of this book is the relationship between mother and daughter. Flo is fed up and a bit rebellious but she and Jack understand each other well and their relationship is strong and though at times it can be combative, it is a loving one.
As they try to settle in to their new home Flo finds that not everyone is welcoming and she is the target of a couple of unpleasant teenage bullies. Fortunately though she has a friend in Wiggly, a young man she met while taking photographs in the churchyard. Wiggly has a disability but he is kind and Flo is drawn to him.
This being C. J. Tudor, it is not long before creepy things start to happen and once they do the action is unrelenting and furious. Tudor weaves an intricate plot where the threads intersect and as she pulls tightly on the ends, the whole thing comes together to form a tapestry that really holds the interest as you watch the picture unfold, open-mouthed.
A recurring motif in the book is the image of stick figures left menacingly on Jack’s doorstep and in other places where they are guaranteed to sopok people. These are reminiscent of Twanas, which readers may recall are are a recurring nightmarish theme in the Blair Witch Project. They are mysterious, humanoid stick figures that is the signature symbol of the Blair Witch and they were used in her unholy black magic rituals. All of which just adds creepiness to this already ultra creepy story.
Told mainly from Jack’s first person perspective, there is also a third person narrative for Flo and an outsider who creeps around the fringes of this book intent on finding Jack for reasons of his own, until it is time for him to take centre stage. The pacing is strong and quickens every time danger approaches (which it does – a lot!).
Verdict: Excellent characters, hugely atmospheric settings, sinister goings on and murderous intent all combine to create a tense and chilling ghostly atmosphere where you fear for the lives of characters you have come to both like and respect. A fabulous blend of crime, horror and psychological thriller which will have you cowering under the duvet and not just because it is winter! Highly recommended.
C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, and has recently moved to Kent with her partner and young daughter.Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter , copywriter and now, author.