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Friday, 20 October 2017

‘The Coven’ by Graham Masterton

Published by Head of Zeus,
5 October 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78497635-4 (HB)

According to Graham Masterton, London in the mid-18th century was a city with a dark underbelly. Plus ça change, you might say – but if routine near-slave labour in factories and brothels catering for the most extreme of perversions exist nowadays, they're well hidden.

This is the world Beatrice Scarlet, qualified apothecary and single parent, finds herself embroiled in when she returns to her homeland from the brave new world that is America. She finds employment in St Mary Magdalene's Refuge for Fallen Women, an establishment which rescues girls and young women from prostitution, and teaches them to earn a living by less dangerous means.

All very worthy and well-meaning – except when girls go missing under apparently demonic circumstances from the factory owned by the refuge's main benefactor. Science-minded Beatrice refuses to believe their disappearance is the result of their own dabbling with witchcraft, and sets out to follow a far more down-to-earth trail of clues.

Beatrice's quest for the truth takes her deep into that dark underbelly, and into increasingly dangerous situations which leave her wondering who she can trust. Help comes from James, an attractive young teacher and Jonas Rook, a Bow Street constable, and also from unexpected sources, all vividly drawn in often gruesome detail.

The result is a complex story rich with historical detail, especially about the apothecary's trade. The author has clearly done a great deal of research into many aspects of the mid-18th century, and it finds its way on to the page in vivid colour – though I did wonder how much time he has spent around small children; Beatrice's eighteen-month-old daughter Florence is far more articulate and perceptive than any child of that age I've ever encountered. But she provides a welcome diversion from some of the more horrific elements, as does the growing attraction between feisty Beatrice and the rather dishy James.

The novel highlights the conflict between superstition and science which underpinned just about everything three hundred years ago – and also tells a graphic, fast-moving tale with a large element of horror threaded through the battle between good and evil. Beatrice Scarlet is a heroine of her own time who could teach a lesson or two to women of ours.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Graham Masterton. was born in Edinburgh in 1946. His grandfather was Thomas Thorne Baker, the eminent scientist who invented DayGlo and was the first man to transmit news photographs by wireless. After training as a newspaper reporter, Graham went on to edit the new British menis magazine Mayfair, where he encouraged William Burroughs to develop a series of scientific and philosophical articles which eventually became Burroughsi novel The Wild Boys. At the age of 24, Graham was appointed executive editor of both Penthouse and Penthouse Forum magazines. At this time he started to write a bestselling series of sex 'how-to' books including How To Drive Your Man Wild In Bed which has sold over 3 million copies worldwide. His latest, Wild Sex For New Lovers is published by Penguin Putnam in January, 2001. He is a regular contributor to Cosmopolitan, Menis Health, Woman, Womanis Own and other mass-market self-improvement magazines. He lives in Surrey. His wife and agent Wiescka died on 27 April 2011, aged 65. He has just finished writing a black thriller featuring Irelandis only female detective superintendent, Katie Maguire, set in the Cork underworld; and a dark fantasy, Jessicais Angel, about a girlis search for five supposedly-dead children.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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