Blood Harvest (2010)
S. J. Bolton
Genre: gothic thriller crime
Alice and Gareth Fletcher have lived in the little village of Heptonclough with their three young children for a few months, but the community still hasn't really accepted them. If anything, Heptonclough are trying to get them to leave. The Fletchers are not at all fazed by the fact that their new house is next to a church and surrounded by a graveyard, which I guess is ominous in itself. When the new vicar Harry Laycock arrives in town to reopen the church for worship, they bond over their common outsider status and become fast friends.
Tom is ten years old and at that age where he's determined not to run complaining to his parents when he's bullied and pranked at school. But it isn't just the bullies that have him constantly on edge. He doesn't feel safe playing in his own garden and being the eldest child, he feels that it is his responsibility to ensure that five-year-old Joe and two-year-old Milly are safe. Tom knows that someone is watching them, but can't get any solid proof to take to his parents. To make matters worse, Joe and Milly are perfectly comfortable in 'Ebba's' company and seem to be conspiring against Tom when he tries to convince his parents and Harry that someone has been watching them.
Dr Evi Oliver is a psychiatrist and an exceptionally pretty one at that. She draws men like flies, but isn't interested in a relationship: her life is difficult as it is, what with being disabled. She damaged her sciatic nerve several years ago and is almost constantly in pain, having to rely on a walking stick, wheelchair and endless buckets of patience to get around, being too stubborn and proud to ask for help. Evi is only thirty-three years old.*
Evi still enjoys riding when she can and this is how she meets Harry. Or rather, some kids spook her horse into throwing Evi off his back, and Harry finds Evi on the ground, unable to move. Despite her better instincts, Evi finds herself attracted and Harry makes no attempt to hide his own. She's seriously considering pursuing her feelings, but when she discovers that her patient Gillian has the hots for Harry, she drops the notion like a hot rock. Gillian lost her daughter in a house fire several years ago, but because the body was never recovered, she doesn't believe her daughter is dead. She's incredibly vulnerable and just beginning to pull herself out of the hole she's been in these few years; Harry is one of Gillian's motivating factors and Evi doesn't want to compromise Gillian's recovery by starting a relationship with Harry.
One night, a grave is found dug up in the graveyard next to the Fletchers' home. The grave belonged to Lucy Pickup, daughter of Jenny Pickup whose family owns most of the town. It's distressing enough that someone went and dessecrated holy ground, but what's more shocking is that Lucy's body wasn't the only one in the grave. The other body belongs to a young girl, dressed in clothes that Gillian's daughter was supposed to be wearing the night she died ...
When Milly goes missing, the pranks are finally taken seriously. There's something sinister going on in Heptonclough and secrets are being unearthed that were really best left alone.
I was genuinely scared by Blood Harvest. Awakening and Now You See Me were scary, but Blood Harvest went that extra step. Ms Bolton creates fabulously tense atmospheres and sinister situations. Much of the book was told through the eyes of young Tom and this only intensified what was happening and made the tension almost palpable. Having the feeling that you're being watched is spooky enough in itself and so I can't begin to imagine what it's like when you're ten years old and no one believes you.
Harry's not what you might expect in a vicar. He's young, good-looking, charming and charismatic and Evi's reaction when she discovered his vocation was brilliant - I don't think I would believe it, had it been me. It's got to be one of the most disappointing realisations ever. Personality wise, I think I like him best of all of Ms Bolton's heroes (still haven't read Sacrifice). Unlike Matt in Awakening, he doesn't have a girlfriend and unlike Joesbury in the Lacey Flint series, Harry actually takes active steps to show his attraction instead of "venting sexual frustration through unreasonable aggression." All of Ms Bolton's heroines are flawed in some way and none more than Evi. His feelings towards her are that much sweeter as a consequence.
I know that this is horribly prejudiced and discriminatory and I despise myself for it, but I'll be honest and admit that I often had to remind myself that Evi is only thirty-something. Her physical and mental strength and stamina are both admirable and humbling and I cannot imagine how I would cope and manage in such a high-pressure job if I were in her position. Evi is a really inspirational heroine who makes me think twice about the things that I so easily take for granted in life. Her love story with Harry is seriously adorable.
A lot of Blood Harvest is about the Fletchers (the kids especially) and the secrets of the mysterious town of Heptonclough; I would have liked a little more focus on Harry and Evi. Harry had quite a close relationship with the Fletchers; it would have been good to have seen more interaction between Evi and Alice and the kids. I know this is me seeing everything from a romance-novel perspective again, but this has become a habit as natural as breathing. Despite this, I did enjoy reading a horror/crime novel mainly through the eyes of a kid. It put a new spin on your reactions as a reader and as I said before, makes everything that little bit scarier.
Heptonclough's secrets were a shocker. It's a creepy town and makes me very glad that I'm an urban-girl - I don't think I could live surrounded by that much wilderness and empty space. Don't get me wrong, I love the countryside and living in Brighton surrounded by the South Downs is lovely, but my love for the bustle of cities is greater. As with Now You See Me, Ms Bolton keeps you hanging right until the very end and she's an absolute master at getting those climatic endings spot on. It was definitely not what I was expecting. A really great read.
*this is a guess because I can't remember if the book actually states her age, and Dead Scared says she not yet thirty-four.
Image courtesy of bookdepository