Friday, 13 December 2019

The Bleak Midwinter by L C Tyler

The Bleak Midwinter by L C Tyler
Published in the UK by Constable on the 27th December 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


John Grey is now a Justice of the Peace and lives in the manor house he has inherited on his mother's death with his new wife, Aminta.

As the village is cut off from the rest of the world by a heavy snowfall, George Barwell is discovered dead in the woods. Grey is called to examine the horribly disfigured body amidst the rumours that the attack has been the work of the Devil as the victim had been cursed by reputed witch Alice Mardike just days before his violent death.

As Barwell's father-in-law leads the villagers into kidnapping Alice and throwing her into the millpond to see if she floats as a witch or drowns as an innocent woman, Grey agrees to investigate the murder: his main suspect is the very man leading the witch hunt. But if Grey can't solve the mystery of George Barwell's death within a week, Mardike will be tried for witchcraft - and the sentence has already been decided . . .

The Bleak Midwinter is the first of two witchcraft-themed novels I've read back-to-back (the other being Love Potions And Other Calamities by Charlie Laidlaw which I'll be reviewing here on Sunday). It is set at this time of year so is perfect for a December read, but takes us back to a chillingly well evoked 17th century Essex, a time of intense superstitious beliefs. A witch, Alice Mardike, has lived in this rural community all her life. Essentially a herbalist, most of the villagers see no problem in visiting Alice for medicines and charms and have done so for years, but George Barwell's shocking murder frightens them so much that they eagerly allow their fear to overrule everything else when a single dominating voice insists Alice must have murdered George.

At the heart of The Bleak Midwinter is a battle between traditional superstition and John Grey's newfangled ideas of crime detection. This is the fifth novel featuring John Grey and, fortunately, it works well as a standalone tale because, unsurprisingly for me, I haven't read any of the earlier four books although on the strength of this one I am now very keen to do so. Tyler cleverly drops clues and red herrings for readers, all the while increasing the story's tension as we see the villagers becoming more hysterical. I appreciated Tyler's showing how, en masse, the people are so easily led and Grey's exasperation at this herd mentality is palpable. I liked Grey. He is a bundle of contradictions trying to reconcile city training with rural life whilst stepping into his father's Lord Of The Manor shoes.

I felt convincing historical details added significantly to the overall atmosphere of The Bleak Midwinter and the complex mystery was a joy to unravel. As an afternote, Tyler mentions being angry as he wrote and I had sensed this through the story, mostly as a result of the gross unfairness and appalling treatment meted out to Alice and women like her. Tyler has obviously done his research on witchcraft at this time and it was sobering to remember that, while The Bleak Midwinter itself is fiction, lots of the events and actions described were very real to many people 350 years ago. As a compelling historical crime novel, I highly recommend The Bleak Midwinter and its cold snowy setting should be a strong enticement to read it before Christmas!

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  1. I just want the book cover... it would match my house so well!

    1. I've seen poster replicas of some book covers, but I don't know if this publisher does that

  2. Replies
    1. I really enjoyed The Bleak Midwinter. Highly recommended!

  3. Winter settings are always fun for a winter read!

    1. Especially when they include a not-cutesy Christmas like this does!

  4. This sounds like an awesome read for this time of year!! :)