Map of Blue Book Balloon

1 June 2013

Review: Path of Needles by Alison Littlewood

Alison Littlewood is clearly very versatile. Her last book, A Cold Season. was out-and-out supernatural horror. "Path of Needles" is more ambiguous.

The book centres on two women, Cate, an ambituous police constable and Alice, a university lecturer specialising in fairy tales. When a serial killer begins to leave victims posed like fairy tale characters, Cate, temporarily attached to the enquiry and desperate for a chance to move on, goes out on a limb to involve Alice in the investigation. Soon, though, she begins to have doubts. Alice, meanwhile, is conscious of danger as the stories she loves, but which have always been safely trapped in books, become real. And what does the mysterious blue bird signify? All Alice's stories exist in multiple, variant texts, and once you start to interpret them - or to interpret real events in light of them - it seems as though there are no rules, as though anything goes.

I enjoyed the way that Littlewood captures both main characters, including the rivalries and undercurrents among the police, Cate's desire to get on in her career and her relationship with her old mentor. There's a strong thread in the book, playing, of course, into the overt fairytale them, of parent-child relationships (good and bad) especially mothers and daughters. The book walks a narrow line between becoming merely a police procedural and tipping over into the outright weird. We always suspect there may be more here than a serial killer, yet at the same time the crimes are explored as crimes and aren't inexplicable.

Littlewood is also good at evoking landscape - a particular patch of Yorkshire - using real places yet managing to give them an unearthly aspect (this reminded me of Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale.

Overall, a gripping read, something a little different, definitely a writer to watch.

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