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Evil Holds The Key

by Norman Russell

      If you remember fondly the gothic novels of a quarter century ago, and used to love to curl up with a book by somebody like Victoria Holt, Virginia Coffman or Pamela Bennetts, then you will love this. Norman Russell is an author who loves to swim against the tide, and good luck to him. This is his latest tale of Warwickshire detectives Inspector Jackson and Sergeant Bottomley, who have possibly their most eerie investigation yet on their hands -but of course they have had a lot of practice. Lucy Forster is a university graduate and fancies herself a "New Woman," but she still falls in love with Robert Davenant, owner of a stately home and keen farmer. Despite the gypsies’ warning, she makes friends with her husband’s sinister librarian, Silas Markham, and is soon keen to open up the old subterranean grotto, which has been closed for a hundred and fifty years. But the grotto hides a terrible secret, and Lucy is unwittingly going to let the cat out of the bag.

Some very respectable gypsies, a scary ancestor called Mad Jack, spooky legends, and a township of wild people all add up to tremendous fun -so much fun, in fact, that I for one wish the gothic genre would be revived by more than one man. The heroine is probably the least interesting character here, but is only permitted the one obligatory scream as befits a potentially emancipated lady. The other folk are mainly larger than life, and there is humor here, too, in case the whole thing takes itself too seriously, which a modern reader surely wouldn’t swallow. This is a fast-paced story that never flags, and I was sorry to finish it. Highly enjoyable -if only there were more than one of these a year!

The Book

Robert Hale
September 2005
Historical Mystery [1893, Warwickshire, UK]
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2005
© 2005