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Wednesday 22 February 2023

A Favourite Book: Jayne-Marie Barker

 'Hiding From The Light' by Barbara Erskine

On my bookshelves I have fairly limited space.  Books jostle for a permanent slot as more and more enter my sphere. Most are read and moved into the storage box but a few select volumes of utter brilliance manage to retain their space on the shelf.  I first read this book in 2002 and needless to say, it has never left the shelf, except to be re-read repeatedly. 

Hiding From The Light features the fictional characters of the modern day inhibited by the real life historical characters' ghostly spirits, bidding them to evil doing.  Emma Dickson feels drawn to the cottage in Mistley, Essex, which once belonged to her ancestor Liza - a white witch, prosecuted and hanged by the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins.  Of course Matthew Hopkins was a real person but the tale picks up the magical essence and draws his character to fit the fictional narrative with literary skill.

Emma leaves a good job in the city and with her partner, Piers, buys and moves into Liza's cottage, compelled by its magnetic qualities.  The relocation changes her life, ruins her relationship with Piers, and ends her city career, but as in all good fictional narratives, all is not lost. The promise of a better life is strong, if only Emma can overcome the spirit of Sarah Paxman, the ghost of many years prior seeking revenge on Hopkins for the murder of Liza. Mistley's rector, Mike Sinclair, is reluctantly overtaken by the ghost of Matthew Hopkins and local modern day witch, Lyndsey Clark, declares herself a distant relative of Emma, and insists she and Sarah kill Mike as Matthew Hopkins.  Mike's lay preacher Judith Sadler is only too keen to see Mike struggling with the issues in his parish, wanting nothing more than to take over his position as parish vicar. Local residents Alex and Paula are drawn into the historical drama and tragedy soon follows. Paula resents Lyndsey's baby sitting duties of their children but Alex, like the good-hearted neighbour, wants to help Lyndsey and Emma.  As the historical fiction continues with Liza's arrest and cruelly unfair trial, Sarah Paxman fights to save her without success and ends up being tested by Matthew Hopkins as a witch herself. The test is interestingly unjust and historically accurate, as far as I can ascertain.

To add an edge to the drama, Barbara cleverly includes the sub-plot of TV filming for Halloween in a haunted empty Mistley shop. The film makers manage to help out as the historical drama picks up pace and the modern day characters race against time to kill the spirits before the spirits kill them. To add that extra special twist, Emma and Mike fall in love but the spark is left to the readers imagination as the action takes center stage right up until the very last page. One of the smaller points in the story never leaves my memory; Emma's cats relocate with her but vanish as the action starts up towards the climax. As all creatures, in particular cats, their sixth sense kicks in and they safely return once peace returns to Mistley. It's a small extra but it really adds that hint of creditability to the tale.

Hiding From The Light is a fascinating read, fast paced and gripping, and belongs on every bookshelf in the land. I have purposefully not told you the outcome as I hope this feature will encourage you to give it a whirl yourself!

Barbara Erskin was born 10 August 1944 in Nottingham.  She has a degree in medieval Scottish history from Edinburgh University. Barbara and her family split their time between the Welsh borders and their ancient manor house near the unspoilt coast of North Essex. Barbara's novel Lady Of Hay sold well over a million copies worldwide. Whispers In The Sand was translated into twenty-three languages, and House of Echoes was shortlisted for the WH Smith Thumping Good Read awards of 1995 and 1997, respectively followed by Distant Voices and On The Edge of Darkness.

Jayne-Marie Barker
writes mystery thrillers with a romatic twist, and has an unlimited capacity to adore cold cases and double time lines. She enjoys murder mysteries minus the blood and guts, loves all things literary, cats, elephants and butterflies. As a creative person, she enjoys reading as much as writing it, dancing, spending time with her family and friends, and looks forward to the future with ambition and hope.

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