How do you make a witch? Sharon Bolton has some ideas,

and her latest novel is a wonderfully chilling tale of conspiracy and murder in a small northern town at the foot of Pendle Forest.

What’s it about?

‘I imagine that Patsy regained consciousness slowly, and that her first lucid thought was that she was struggling to breathe.’

1969. Lancashire. When three teenagers go missing, one after another, most of the local police force are keen to keep the local population calm. Maybe the teenagers were just unhappy at home? At least one of them was last seen near a railway terminal. Maybe the three of them even plotted to run away together?

New police constable and persistent outsider, Florence Lovelady, has other ideas, and these ideas gradually reveal that the local coffin maker, Larry Glassbrook, has been burying the teenagers while they were still alive…

In 1999, Florence, no longer young but still very much the outsider, returns to the small town of Sabden for Larry’s funeral, and is disturbed to find the old case seemingly re-opening around her as another teenager goes missing…

What’s it like?

Wonderfully chilling. Deliciously understated. Completely compelling.

Florence is an intriguing character, simultaneously anxious and excited by the troubling resurgence of her first significant investigation. The final third of the story is particularly engrossing as we unravel the true events of 1969 and begin to see another side to the serious, anxious police woman who found Patsy’s body.

Florence’s experiences as a young police woman working in 1969 are also an interesting insight into the entrenched sexism of the era, though Bolton states that she never set out to write an ‘issues’ book and the issues raised by the time period never detract attention from the creepiness of the plot. And my word, it is creepy. Voodoo dolls, missing body parts and children who get buried alive make for gripping reading, but it’s Bolton’s wonderfully factual prose that makes the experience so coldly compelling. For instance:

‘Patsy wasn’t wearing clothes. I knew it to be normal [in an autopsy], but couldn’t help feeling sad for her. She would have had a teenager’s extreme sensitivity about her body and could probably imagine little worse than lying naked in front of six men.’

Except, perhaps, being buried alive in a coffin…

Final thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘The Craftsman’, though the ending gave me slight pause (it’s quite wonderful…but also moves the story more firmly in a particular direction).

The discussion of Freemasons and covens gives the book a real sense of a community where no one can be trusted, and it’s certainly worth wondering why Florence appears to be the only bright spark in the police station.

Gothic and gripping, this is a delight that might just keep you up all night.

‘The Craftsman’,
Sharon Bolton,
2018, Trapeze, hardback