Published by The Book Guild,
28 August 2020.
ISBN: 978 1913208 738 (PB)
Just off the coast of Essex, linked to the mainland by
a causeway, is the island of St Cedd, barren, windswept, surrounded by the
snarling sea which eats away at the land. Legends and myths about the island
abound: tales of wreckers who decoyed boats to the shore and then killed the
survivors; men who can turn themselves into wild beasts and kill at random;
ghosts who stalk the land, taunting people whom they drive to madness;
malignant sea-dwelling females who lure boats onto the rocks or into the deadly
Two brothers live on the island.
Magnus Bostock farms Slegholm Farm in the way that his ancestors have farmed
for generations, something that he finds increasingly difficult while his wife,
dour, tight-lipped Brenda, wants him to adopt more modern methods. Magnus’s
brother Nick will have nothing to do with the farm or farming; although when
younger he managed to get away he now finds himself back on St Cedd and trying
to make a living taking tourists out on fishing trips. But this isn’t enough,
and he finds himself drawn into exploiting the misery of illegal migrants
escaping the turmoil of wars elsewhere. This is something that Nick doesn’t
want to be involved in, and neither do his two mates who are also involved. But
when he tries to tell the sinister Patrick Rokesmith, organiser of the ring of
human traffickers, that he wants to give up, Rokesmith threatens him. And there
are people behind Rokesmith who are yet more sinister. And then Rokesmith
starts to draw in Magnus into the evil activity. This enrages Brenda who can
see the dangers involved in the activity.
There is another development when
property developer Ethan Langeveldt, an associate of Rokesmith, first buys a
field next to Slegholm Farm and parked caravans on it, then obtains planning
permission to build houses. This would put paid to Brenda’s ambition to expand Slegholm
Farm and make it profitable. Worst of all, someone (or something) is killing
Magnus’s sheep, slashing them in a way almost reminiscent of a wild beast.
Without any clues as who (or what) and why there is little the police can do.
Not everyone on St Cedd’s is as
doomladen as the Bostock brothers .Elaine Maples, landlady of the Dog and
Whistle Inn, who although she dislikes life on the island, runs the pub with
considerable efficiency although with nothing like the help she feels she ought
to be getting from her teenage son Alex and her idle barman Dave. And there is
the young girl, Morgan Welland, fey and other worldly, who lives alone in an
isolated cottage with only the birds and other wildlife for company. She is
aware, as few others are, of the evil on St Cedd although she has no idea of
the form it would take and what it would do.
Into this strange mixture of real-life
criminality and ancient evil comes Jasmin Kapoor, a young academic who is
researching the violent Indian Mutiny of 1857 in which atrocities, such as the
Massacre of Cawnpore, were committed by both sides. Jasmin has a personal stake
in the research - her own ancestor was killed during the Mutiny – and she
believes that a forebear of the Bostocks, great-great-great grandfather of
Magnus and Nick, James Bostock, was among the senior officers at Cawnpore and
was involved in the pitiless retribution by the British authorities. Magnus’s
and Nick’s grandmother, now very ill in a nursing home, knows that there are
papers but does not wish to discuss the massacre with Jasmin. But when Jasmin
eventually lays hands on the papers something much worse is awakened.
I found this story not just
fascinating but enthralling. The power of the writing, the evocation of the bleak,
unlovely landscape, grabs the reader and will not let go. St Cedd may be based
on an actual place or it may be entirely the creation of the writer’s
imagination; whichever it is, it is a strange, uncanny place, best avoided.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Vicki Lloyd lives in Oxford and has a degree in Latin and English from the University of Kent and a Masters in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. Throughout her career, she has worked as an archaeologist, journalist, copy editor, playwright and short-story writer.
Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.