Synopsis: Relocated to a coastal town, widowed teacher Sarah Grey is slowly rebuilding her life, along with her young son Alfie. But after an inadvertent seance one drunken night, her world is shaken when she starts to experience frightening visions. She tries to explain them as But Alfie sees them too and Sarah believes that they have become the targets of a terrifying haunting. Convinced that the ghost is that of a 19th Century local witch and namesake, Sarah delves into local folklore and learns that the witch was thought to have been evil incarnate. When a series of old letters surface, Sarah discovers that nothing and no-one is as it seems, maybe not even the ghost of Sarah Grey!
This is Syd Moore’s first novel and she was inspired to write it when she read about the legend of a 19th century Essex woman called Sarah Moore, who was known as The Sea Witch. There’s a quote on the back cover describing it as “The perfect chiller for fans of The Birthing House (eek!) and Sacrifice" (presumably the SJ Bolton book, which I loved). If I’d read the Birthing House reference before I bought the book I might have thought twice, and indeed a few chapters in I was beginning to think I’d been lumbered with a turkey. The writing had a bit of an amateurish feel to it and the ghostly visitations that Sarah experiences were very poorly set up with no atmosphere or build-up of suspense.
In a bid to stop these hauntings Sarah starts to investigate how her namesake died, with the help of the descendent of one of the original Sarah’s few local supporters (who conveniently happens to be her boss). I have to say that at this stage of the book there was a definite improvement and I did become engrossed in the story of this 19th century woman who didn‘t conform to society‘s norms and was therefore regarded with suspicion and fear. Her supporter, the local vicar, kept a journal and excerpts from it are included in the book. This part of the narrative flowed really well and it did occur to me that Moore’s writing was better in this historical timeframe than when she was writing for her modern characters.
Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse again when Sarah completed her investigations and discovered what really happened to her namesake, at which point the book was let down by a farcical ending with an unnecessary twist.
So perhaps a more accurate (but maybe not as catchy) strapline would be “Not as bad as The Birthing House, but not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Sacrifice either”. Overall a disappointing read but not without some very promising elements. Susan Hill and SJ Bolton do chills and suspense so much better.