There are clues that something isn't quite right in Heptonclough, including the mysterious accidental deaths of three toddlers over the last ten years. It is not until Tom's siblings, two-year-old Milly and five-year-old Joe, go missing in turn that the little village's evil secret turns the Fletchers' dreams into a nightmare.
This is a well-written and very suspenseful book, which reminded me of Simon Beckett's or even Ruth Rendell's mysteries. The village, set on the wild moors, is full of atmosphere and foreboding. There are village traditions that appear brutal and bizarre to outsiders. The new vicar is an interesting man, as are the three children and a psychiatrist who also plays a large part in the story. The parents, especially the father, are less well realized and strangely unconcerned at the menace directed at their own children, but this is a quibble--thsi is a suspenseful and eerie tale.
At times BLOOD HARVEST had me enthralled but in the end it just missed ticking most of the “things I like in my crime fiction” boxes. Ultimately it went a bit too far.
As a die-hard city girl I’m fairly easily persuaded that rural life anywhere is like an episode of Midsomer Murders, with evil-doers aplenty and an overall “people who live in the country are all barking mad” sensibility but this book stretched the bounds of credibility on this score even for me. It relied a bit too heavily on multiple clichés including haunted churches, bad weather and an all-powerful Lord-of-the-Manor type, so that by about the three-quarter mark I was eye-rolling more often than reaching for the comfort blanket.
The character development was more successful however with the central cast all being quite credible and some, including the Fletcher children, delightfully understated. These days it is not unreasonable to expect any religious characters in a crime novel to be somewhat suspect but as the new reverend responsible for re-opening the local church Harry Laycock is devoid of suspicious behaviour and his struggles with the village atmosphere are well-depicted and within the bounds of believability. Where the novel fell down a bit for me though was with regard to his love life. Evi is a psychologist who is treating one of Harry’s parishioners and their never-quite-on relationship just doesn’t ring true. I didn’t object to the inclusion of a romantic element but its tortured progress read more like something from a teenage romance novel which was quite out of keeping with the rest of the story.
The plot had lots to admire but again fell short of hitting the mark for me. At nearly 550 pages the book is a long one and it did drag in places as very convoluted relationships between the present and the past were explained and other unnecessary exposition filled up space. At other times though it does rip along and the gothic sensibility did draw me in. Which of the Fletcher children is at risk? Are they seeing a ghost? If not, who or what is disturbing them? And which of the creepy villagers is not who they appear to be? These questions and more kept me reading late into the night.
In the end I suppose BLOOD HARVEST is not a bad novel though it is not as good as Bolton’s earlier two works (SACRIFICE and AWAKENING both of which I loved) and it just seems to have taken one step too far on several levels. That said, it is atmospheric and creepy: maybe one for fans of gothic horror rather than ‘straight’ crime.
Harry is the new vicar, appointed to reopen the Heptonclough church after a ten years' cessation of services. A terrible accident, a small girl falling to her death from the church gallery, had closed it. As Harry begins to order things and meet his congregation, he bcomes convinced that something is 'not right' about the church; rather than peaceful and comforting, the church exudes pain and disquiet.
And so Ms. Bolton brings us into Heptonclough, a village in the Lancashire moors, where they honor their dead with odd rituals, where whispers from around corners warn of ill-bespoken dangers. Bolton's writing creates a foreboding atmosphere of impending peril that grows sharply into terror at the book's climax. In a previous novel, SACRIFICE, Ms. Bolton demonstrated great ability to craft a story that captures and holds the reader; here, she has shown her great growth in that ability. One can only eagerly await her next offering.
These two events are at the forefront of a relentless plot that should keep any reader turning pages. The plot is fast-paced and full of surprises, all leading to a jaw-dropping conclusion.
** I received this book as an Advance Readers' Edition for review. **
The village of Heptonclough is one of those places that sits outside of time. Located in the Pennine moors near Lancashire, the town surrounds the old church, the new church, and a graveyard (complete with underground crypt). Straddling the line between the new and old church (and the new and old world) is a house built by the village's newest residents, the Fletchers, and their three children - and so the fun begins.
This village takes its traditions seriously, particularly those centered around the harvest. There is a harvest festival with all kinds of strange customs (and potential misdeeds), the annual slaughter (where blood literally runs in the streets), and the making of 'bone people' to be destroyed in the annual bonfire. Throughout it all the Fletcher children feel they are being watched and the long-buried secrets of Heptonclough are (in some cases literally) uncovered.
This was a wonderfully creepy read. Highly recommended for fans of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.
I realized immediately that this book was not something I should be reading at night alone in the house, and realized at the same time that I wasn't going to be able to put it down. I stayed up past midnight to finish it, and am glad I did - the resolution, while horrible, explains away the supernatural aspect that would really have disturbed my sleep. I figured out the culprit fairly early, but that didn't take away from the suspense, as it's mainly centered around "why" and "what the heck is going on" rather than "who".
I really liked this, and will be checking out Bolton's earlier books.
This is easily one of the best books I've read in ages. I had a very hard time putting it down. It's got everything a good gothic horror story should have: creepy atmosphere, a strange ghostlike creature, an old church, someone in trouble, even English moors!
The Fletchers have moved into the tiny village of Heptonclough. It wasn't exactly easy, as the town's "ruling" family, the Renshaws, didn't want them moving in at all, let alone building a new house on the moors near the churches (one a medieval ruin, the other "new"--Victorian-era).
The Fletchers' two boys, Tom and Joe, take to playing in the church and the graveyard as it's been abandoned for quite some time. But not long after the Fletchers move in, a new vicar is installed in the church. He likes the boys and takes an interest in their welfare and that of their sister, Millie. Which is a good thing because he starts to hear that Heptonclough isn't a safe place for little girls.
Add to this a young woman who believes that her daughter who died in a fire a number of years ago is still alive and living on the moors (and the psychiatrist trying to help her), disembodied voices, strange medieval (or older) rituals that take place in the town, and a strange creature only seen by the Fletcher children, and you've got one creepy story.
She intertwines the stories of a new family in an insular town, a psychiatrist drawn to the town by a patient, and a newly appointed minister, reopening the church that was closed after a child’s death, with old English pagan customs and a spooky voice in the graveyard that imitates voices of the living. Very young female children have died in ways no one connects – until a storm washes out the grave of one girl and the coffin breaks open to expose the remains of three.
The characters are well drawn and the action keeps moving to the chilling conclusion. I recommend this book
But I couldn't stay away too long... I had to know what was next, what was going to happen, and I wasn't disappointed. The book built to a final very satisfying conclusion with all threads finished and tied up.
An absolute page turner; I can't recommend it highly enough!
The editors and publishers left it alone. Instead of a neutered, American English variant (ahem, Harry Potter, ugh), the bucolic Britishness of Blood Harvest's weird (fictional) town of Heptonclough, Lancashire, has been left intact, and it is that very slight cultural shift that makes S.J. Bolton's novel stand out in a crowded genre of quasi-paranormal suspense stories.
Pair that with the near-brilliant portrayal of young, Geordie vicar Harry Laycock and you've got a combination that is just skewed enough to make the compelling-but-not-earthshattering plot feel memorable. Laycock is a man of the cloth, but he's a modern one: He pines after smarty-pants psychiatrist Evi Oliver, whose own character is appealingly flawed. Oliver can only walk with a cane and suffers chronic nerve pain that pushes her nearly to madness at times.
Heptonclough's assortment of inbreds and recluses is reminiscent of the town in Simon Pegg's movie "Hot Fuzz." There's something endearingly dark and twisted about certain British farm towns. Bolton maximizes on that. Her story involves the mysterious disappearances of a suspiciously high number of very small girls from Heptonclough. A grieving young mother of one of these children seems a bit too aggrieved; the town's oligarchy seems a bit too powerful and hush-hush; the local seasonal traditions uncomfortably pagan and violent. Oh, and the family at the center of this just built a large, slightly offensive house in the middle of the town's medieval graveyard. Yeah.
Romping and gripping for most of its course, Bolton's novel suffers from a couple of plot turns that stretch one's credulity and an absolutely dreadful ending. Does this mean this will be a series? I admit, I'd read more.
A Time To Be Born - Twelve-year-old Tom and his family have just moved to a small town perched on the crest of the moor. But troubles begin when Tom sees a mysterious child lurking around the nearby churchyard. A Time To Die - Psychiatrist Evi is trying to treat a young woman haunted by the disappearance of her little girl. A devastating fire burned down their home, but even two years on she is convinced her daughter survived. A Time To Kill - Harry is the town's new vicar, quickly befriended by the locals. But unusual events around the church suggest he isn't entirely welcome, and that this odd little town harbours a terrifying secret.
Wow, what a great book. I really couldn’t put this book down. When I first started to read this book I thought it was going to be a ghost story. As the story progressed I thought it was very slightly similar to The Wicker Man. My reason being that the village is steeped in old traditions and everybody seemed to have lost a young daughter. Then as the story progressed further it changed and became a crime story. I have added this to my Halloween reads because the main bulk of the story is through the months on September and October, but also because it was really scary. So OK the girl in the graveyard may not have been a ghost after all, but it is scary to think how human beings can treat each other. Is there a happy ending, well maybe for some. What the author did do was to finish each chapter on a cliff hanger so I had to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. I would highly recommend this read.
The boys hear a small girl's voice calling to them. The vicar has also noticed some voices and strange sounds in the church, especially when he is alone. Is this the ghost of Lucy Pickup who died in a fire a few years ago? Or someone trying to scare the children?
During a community event around the Day of the Dead, also known as All Soul's Day, Millie Fletcher, the young sister of Joe and Tom, goes missing. What is happening to the children in Heptonclough?
The story moves along with clues along the way to the climax. We always hope we are clever enough to figure it out. There is love interest for the new vicar, but will it work out? The author has placed the story in a fictitious village on the moors in Yorkshire.
Four stars. I would definitely read SJ Bolton again.
Drama and suspense keeps you turning the pages. Not a book for that lonely stormy night, more bright sunshine and beach required.
The first half of the book is a gothic delight, with some genuinely creepy moments and fascinating depictions of rather ghoulish local folk customs. Then the book deteriorates into a standard-issue suspense novel with breathless manhunts and helicopters and such. The denouement is unbelievable, and the mystery is solved through the vehicle of what Roger Ebert refers to as the Talking Killer, in which the murderer feels compelled to explain everything in great detail, thereby giving the victim a chance to escape.
In a way it reminded me a little of a nice and cosy Midsomer Murder mysteries