|Design by James Jones|
Point Blank, 3 May 2018
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy via NetGalley.
I'm also honoured that Syd Moore picked up on an earlier comment of mine which has influenced a particular scene in this book. For the record, Syd, I think the scene in question works VERY well...
This is the third of Moore's Essex Witch Museum mysteries. The earlier books took us on a chase around England (Strange Magic) and to London (Strange Sight) as Rosie and Sam were brought in to investigate different mysteries but now we're firmly back on home ground, with nearly all this story taking place in Adder's Fork (hence the nickname for the locals, the Forkers) where Rosie Strange has her eponymous museum, inherited from her grandfather, Septimus.
I'd been wanting to hear more about Adder's Fork and about Rosie's family and this book doesn't disappoint. Adder's Fork turns out to be a lovely English village - complete with gruesome legends and (allegedly) a buried witch - and trouble kicks off almost straightway with a proposed housing development that would destroy a local landmark, the stone known as the Blackly Be. Like an episode of Midsomer Murders, we get local rivalries, protestors, sexual undercurrents and nasty deaths - and that's even before the supernatural seems to breaking loose.
And before we begin to learn about the history of Rosie's family.
Of course in the end all these things are intertwined, and in this book - at last! - Moore finally clears up some of the mysteries she's been hinting at so far in this series. It's a tangled story and I won't drop any spoilers, but it is worth saying that - as you might have guessed - Rosie's background is a lot more interesting than you'd expect from a holidaying Benefits Fraud investigator from Leytonstone.
As ever much of the charm of the book is carried by the will they/ won't relationship between Sam and Rosie which - given Rosie's rather endearing mixture of perceptiveness and clanging inability to see what's right in front of her - has its inevitable ups and downs. Rosie continues to stand up for herself ("What proper grown-up girl couldn't handle a torch wielding mob, right?", " 'You, Strange are from a long line of witches and sluts and' she spat... 'and, and, and feminists!' ... I spent most of the joinery back contemplating... how Araminta had... made quite an insightful comment.")
I have to say she has grown on me through these stories, beginning as pretty unsympathetic - a Benefit Fraud inspector, wanting to sell off the museum, obviously reluctant to be involved in all the spookiness that had swept her up - but fighting her way though magnificently, never more so than in Strange Fascination. Rather fittingly, there's a lot more spookiness here than in the earlier books (although, as ever, Moore is careful to leave open-ended what exactly is happening) yet Rosie and Sam come through with aplomb, navigating the gallery of villagers, toffs, Essex girls and distant relatives as well as the police, forensic service and even a greasy estate agent.
All in all I think this book - and the series its part of - an absolute triumph, with its own distinct voice, humour and - at the centre - a rather sweetly romantic story.
The last word should go to Rosie. Asked whether "Some secrets are better left buried" she replies "No... I think it's better to face the strange, however painful... that might be."
And that is what this book does.
For more about the book, see here.