This excellent supernatural horror mystery opens in 1913 with a 16-year-old girl in rural Suffolk seeing her father leaving the house with an ice pick and hammer. Maud runs after him shouting for help. Too late, she witnesses her father brutally murder someone in the lane outside. But was she really just a witness? And how did she know to shout for help before the attack?
Flash forward 50 years. The press have decided to dig deeper into the story, partly inspired by her father’s paintings. Now cult classics in the 1960s, he painted them in while in a secure hospital following the murder. At least one journalist thinks Maud may have committed the murder herself.
Something about Suffolk lends itself to gothic murder stories, and Wakenhyrst draws effectively on East Anglian myths. Mysterious nature surrounds the isolated gentleman’s residence where Maud and her father live, with the Fens as present in the book as any other character (including Chatterpie the magpie who is the cover star).
Paver explores the lives of women and girls in this remote setting, from maids to ladies of the house. While class separates individuals, women’s solid societal position as less clever, less important, less human than men prevails. Wakenhyrst is psychologically convincing, examining the ground between madness and possible supernatural influences. How people interpret events is interesting, as is the value given to each interpretation: “The rules governed every moment of Maud’s day and there were two different kinds. One sort belonged to the lower orders: it was called superstition and Father detested it, which meant that the servants observed their rules behind his back… The other rules were Father’s – and much stronger, as he had God on his side”.
The tale is creepy and chilling, but thought-provoking. It would lend itself to a firelit room with creaky floorboards, though I enjoyed it on a sunny day outdoors. It’s not cosy crime, with some of the plot being truly horrifying. We have one signed copy left of this physically beautiful book, so get it while it’s hot.