RELEASE DATE: January 2012
FORMAT: Paperback, 352 pages
A masterpiece of sinister malevolence, The Witches is a classic horror novel. Walwyk seemed a dream village to the new schoolteacher, Miss Mayfield. But dreams can change into nightmares.
When one of her students accuses his friend Ethel’s grandmother of abusing her, Miss Mayfield cannot let it go. But Ethel won’t say anything, despite the evidence of Miss Mayfield’s own eyes. But as she attempts to get to the truth of the matter, she stumbles on something far more sinister. Walwyk seems to be in the grip of a centuries-old evil, and anybody who questions events in the village does not last long. Death stalks more than one victim, and Miss Mayfield begins to realise that if she’s not careful, she will be the next to die. (Goodreads)
THE WITCHES is a horror novel that was originally published in 1960 and tells the story of a school mistress (Miss Mayfield) who goes to teach in a small town in Kent, where things are not quite as they seem. The story is written by Peter Curtis, who isn’t fact a man, but a pseudonym for Norah Lofts.
The 1960s setting gives the book a slightly old fashioned, if not historical feel. But actually suits the tone of the story and mystery perfectly. There were a few points that made me chuckle, forty described as middle aged for instance, at only eight years away from it myself I viewed this a combination or horror and amusement.
The story begins when Miss Mayfield begins to suspect one of her students is being abused. The discovery leaves her to suspect something much more sinister is going on. The book is as much a psychological one as a physical one. The isolation of Miss Mayfield is a single woman in a town where she doesn’t know anyone, doesn’t know who she can trust and subtly begins to be manipulated by those around her until she’s questioning her sanity is chilling.
She had a second in which to taste fear to the full, time to think that there was such a thing as Evil which could take palpable and visual form, and that she was here alone with it.
The tension builds slowly, with a real eeriness that really did give me goosebumps at times. The feeling that something very dark and sinister is lurking underneath the veneer of this pretty village was potent.
Miss Mayfield is a slightly weepy heroine, I understand that it was related to the fact that she wasn’t sure if she was losing her mind during certain sections of the book, but she was a big change from my usual kick-arse urban fantasy favourites. But by the end of the book she showed sheer guts, determination and bravery in her own prim way.
The story has you guessing until the very end about who is involved in the dark plot and who isn’t. I had my suspicions, but it didn’t fail to surprise me. Because of the era the book was written in, you have to read between the lines a little bit during the end, as the writing is not as explicit as we’re used to in more modern writing. For example:
Then she lifted the cup and, saying, ‘Here is his blood,’ offered it to Granny Rigby, who did with it something so degrading that Miss Mayfield shut her eyes…
Now my imagination took me to a few places about what could be that degrading, but that was explicit as things got, you don’t actually know what she does that is so awful, you can only guess. And if you’re a modern horror reader this is quite a step change. It didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all, it was just stylistically different.
A classic, chilling horror novel where the atmosphere and psychological games are as scary as the actual final events. THE WITCHES is a chilling tale of evil that has corrupted a small picturesque Kent village and the one woman who dares to challenge it.
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