I love this title.

It makes me think of that film where it appears that the hapless villagers are living in the 1600s and in dire fear of a beast in the wood, but in fact they live in the modern age, totally separate from the modern world, ruled by despotic village elders who want to live a simpler way of life…while brutally striking fear into the heart of their young folk.

Actually Arnhill is an old-fashioned community, an ex-mining town full of ex-miners and bitterness, ruled by those with money, influence and Thatcher’s values, but underneath the old mines lies the pit, and the pit is the source of an ancient evil.

Once, young Annie Thorne was taken. Then she came back – and that was worse.

What’s it about?

Then: Annie went missing. When she came back, Joe’s little sister was wrong. Not Annie.

Now: compelled by a mixture of guilt, necessity and a desire to do-good that even he doesn’t comprehend, Joe returns to Arnhill in response to an email that claims, I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again.

What’s it like?

Seriously creepy, compelling reading, but ultimately just a little unsatisfying for me.

I loved: Joe’s sarcasm and apparent inability to treat his own imminent mortality with due reverence; the creepy cottage; the freaky prologue; and the tingling horror Tudor’s narrative created, which ensured that I had to read a chapter of two of something else when half-way through so I could go to bed without nightmares.

I was left disappointed by the ultimate lack of revelation, (what on EARTH could Ben have possibly done to set off his mother like that? What happened to Annie?) but also by a few, niggling doubts. Would a serious gangster be so easily dealt with? Why did Joe need to return to Arnhill at all? I mean, I could see it from his perspective (need for closure, mounting debts etc.) but couldn’t comprehend why the email summoning him was ever sent. Joe himself is not sufficiently mythical to warrant his return.

Tudor grew up a huge fan of Stephen King and his influence shines through – perhaps too much in terms of the plot for the liking of some readers – but I find her writing slicker and more engaging.

Final thoughts

I devoured this seriously creepy story in a mere 24 hours, which is tricky with three small people underfoot, so I was definitely gripped. I really enjoyed the blurring of psychological possibilities with horror elements (did Joe go mad? Was there ever anything wrong with Annie?) and the twists and turns as more is revealed about exactly what happened when Annie went missing.

Ultimately, though, I love knowledge, and I wanted to know what had happened to Annie and to Ben, and I didn’t, not really. That’s not a criticism of C. J. Tudor’s writing, which is superbly compelling, but an acknowledgement of my own requirements from a work of fiction.

You should definitely read this for the creeping sense of horror, just don’t expect Tudor to fully lift the veil.

‘The Taking of annie thorne’,
C. J. Tudor,
2019, Michael Joseph, hardback

If you like the sound of this, you should definitely investigate Tudor’s stunning debut novel, ‘The Chalk Man’.