C.J. Tudor can never be said to follow the beaten path with her stories. Each finds a unique way to express things with an eerie undertone and strong messaging throughout. This was no exception, mixing chilling revelations with a bucolic setting in rural England. When Rev. Jack Brooks arrives in Chapel Croft with her teenage daughter, neither is sure what to expect. The new vicar of a handful of parishes, Brooks has fled a disturbing past only to be thrust into a community with a long history of darkness. While she tries to settle in, there are a number of goings-on that unnerve her and leave Brooks to wonder if she might have been better off staying put. Now, as truths come to the surface, it will take more than a prayer or two to remedy what’s gone awry, though some would like to add to the trepidation, rather than soothe the wounds that continue to fester. Another great piece that had me thinking throughout.
Chapel Croft seems like a bucolic place on the surface, which is exactly what Rev. Jack ‘Jacqueline’ Brooks hopes to find with her teenage daughter, Flo. They’ve recently relocated from Nottingham, leaving behind a scandal and seek to reset where no one knows them. However, this community has a long history of trouble as well, dating back to the time of Queen Mary’s purges on the Protestants. At a time when anyone who was not Catholic could be severely punished, many in Chapel Croft were killed, including a few small girls, who were burned at the stake. Their images appear to some at random times, leaving sightings of the Burning Girls as the lead topic amongst the locals.
While Rev. Brooks tries to settle in and help take control of a handful of small parishes, her past comes rushing back. Many of the locals have heard why she fled her last posting, the death of a little girl, and wonder if everything they’ve read is true. This forces Brooks to face truths she wanted shelved, all while she discovers ghosts and mysteries in this new place as well. Alongside the long history of the Burning Girls is the mystery of two teens who disappeared three decades before and a community with their own ideas as to what might have happened.
As Flo also tries to find herself, she’s forced to come to terms with the fact that her teenage life has been turned upside town. All her friends are hours away, their connection solely through text and social media, as well as a new group of mean peers, one of whom wants nothing more than to make her life miserable. However, as Flo befriends on of the town’s outcasts, she learns more about herself and Chapel Croft, including dark secrets many no longer wish to discuss.
With a mysterious entity lurking in the shadows, no one is entirely safe. Chapel Croft may be targeted for a new round of evil doing, though it’s not entirely clear just yet. There’s much to uncover, including the apparently suicide of the last vicar, though something is just not adding up. Rev. Brooks is trained in theology, not crime detection, but she may have to do a little of both to stay one step ahead of those who wish to see her fail in this new placement. A great story that pulls the reader in many directions!
There’s nothing like a story that has all the elements of a great mystery without needing the traditional characters to solve it. No police force or nationwide criminal investigators to poke their heads in, but simply a handful of townsfolk who come together and reveal their own ideas. C. J. Tudor does well to build up these sorts of stories and this was another winner. Gripping, yet still realistic, there are elements of the occult within that keep the reader slightly jarred throughout the slow reveal of this novel’s central theme.
Jack Brooks offers readers a great protagonist role with much that pushes the boundaries of what’s to be expected. The name alone screams ‘unwilling to conform’, but that is only the start. Having fled some problems in her past parish, Brooks must reassert herself here and try to fend off all the spins the media has put to print, keeping her parishioners from pre-judging her too harshly. Alongside that, she’s working to help shape her daughter’s future without the assistance of a second parent, something that is discussed throughout the book. With all this and the mysteries of Chapel Croft, Rev. Brooks may have bitten off more than she can chew throughout this experience.
C.J. Tudor presents a handful of exceptional secondary characters who not only complement the protagonist, but also add depth to the story as a whole. The community is trying to come to grips with a long history of troubles, many of which they cannot solve on their own. Still, there is something about a small community that adds layers to the narrative, troubling and enlightening in equal measure. Tudor does well throughout to keep the action high and the revelations coming, using her characters effectively throughout the storytelling process.
I quite enjoyed the story, as I often do when C.J. Tudor is leading the way. These are not your traditional crime thrillers or procedurals, but rather pieces where the reader must pull back the layers as the narrative gains momentum. New characters each time force the reader to connect and seek to explore each personal backstory they find intriguing, as the chapters flow and the story takes on a mind of its own. Great character development allows the mysteries of Chapel Croft to come to life, while history rears its ugly head throughout the experience. Standalone novels appear to be the way C.J. Tudor chooses to go, showing the reader how effective they can be in the hands of a stellar writer.
Kudos, Madam Tudor, for another winner. I can always be promised something thought provoking when I pick up one of your books. I only wonder what’s next and wait with anticipation.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons