Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss. . . .When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Byers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don’t know is that their aunt’s life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries — before it’s too late for little Mimi. Riveting and intensely atmospheric, this stunning debut will hold readers in its spell long after the last page is turned.
A long time ago, someone decided to write a creepy, English ballad about a bloodthirsty killer. As you do. The story of said song is pretty basic, but still a chilling reciting of the tale of a man sneaking into a house and murdering two innocent inhabitants. In 2011, someone by the name of Lindsey Barraclough, decided this would make a great novel… or rather, decided to write a semi-sequal, and actually it’s pretty good, taking the same simple yet eerie narrative. The plot takes place post-ballad, but the events of its inspiration are fairly recent, having happened within the last sixty years, of world war Britain, which serves as the perfect bleak and accommodating backdrop. Everything circles around three first person perspectives, frequently switching from one to another, creating a cycle of varying understandings. The strength and flow of each individual account differ; the most convincing being Cora, who I would consider the protagonist, and the least interesting being Ida’s p.o.v, which is occationally included just to add a layer of sympathy. I think the story would have been just as effective without this perspective, but even she has some interesting moments.
Character relations are very strong between all roles, but particularly the connections and interactions between the Cora and her sister, and Cora and her aunt. There’s a great representation of the galvanization over-familiarity, annoyance, loyalty and love that comes with being a family, always remaining subtle and realistic. Cora and her male counterpart, Roger, the cheeky rogue, get a complex pre-adolescent male-female dynamic, which isn’t as strong, but still interesting and well-developed. The characters are deep, and easy to sympathise with, which helps to create drama with the whole horror scenarios. Following Cora in her quest is a matter of yelling at the character begging her not to do that thing she’s about to do, in a similar way you might shout at a horror movie when the nubile girl is about to go into the dark-house (why do they never turn the lights on?).
The story doesn’t break any bounderies, or venture anywhere new in terms of horror. Barraclough sticks to a traditional beware the monster tale. The author has a talent for turning seemingly mundane moments into chilling scenes, and then back again seamlessly. These transitions are are subtle and skillfully paced. Barraclough is not afraid of build-up, and while this does give the eerie scenes more punch, sometimes the narrative gets boring. You’ll want to keep reading because of the characters, but there are moments when skimming wouldn’t do any harm. Information distribution isn’t great – I think the build-up went too far sometimes, belaying any clues which might help construct tension, and then reeling off overwhelming amounts of exposition very quickly. This imbalance is irritating, because it makes strong plot points forgettable. One other weak point for me was the climax; by this point most of the terror inducing mystery has been given away, and so the story goes into overdrive, trying too hard to cast fear. Way too hard. Ridiculous cliche settings join unconvincing scenarios, and even a bit of an inconsistency, but it does get back on track fairly quickly afterwards.
The monster is terrifying, Genuinely, please-let-me-never-meet-this-thing-in-a-dark-alley-or-anywhere-else-for-that-matter scary. It’s brilliantly designed, in image and action, and conveyed with some spine-tingling description. He’s slow, cunning yet beastly, and has a well executed backdtory. Adapting the original ballad, Barraclough weaves real emotion into Lankin, even obscuring some of the more vague implications with rational explainations. The murder, the rational, even the ‘kinda-betrayal’ get some viable alteration. It’s also impressive how the ballad is interlaced into the narrative, and even acknowledged as part of the story.
This is the sort of horror story that everyone can enjoy; it’s chilling, but not wildly over-the-top (apart from that climax), and manages to treat younger characters, and thus younger audiences, with respect and tact. It’s not ground-breaking or unique, but it is reminiscent of the idea of the classic monster, while keeping true to themes of family and regret without being overt (apart from that climax). A great halloween read.