After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Myers is back in her mum’s house in the sleepy Oxfordshire village of Wilsby-under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong. Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwoods: a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. Elspeth recognizes the symbols from an ancient local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court deep in the Wychwoods. As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harping back decades.
I am delighted to be taking part in a blog tour for this book and also being able to share with you all an extract from the novel! The extract will be at the end of my review. A huge thank you to Titan Books for providing me with a copy of this book and the materials needed for the tour!
I liked this book but I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t my favourite crime thriller. I’ve read better ones but this did have really gruesome murders which made the story very exciting. I loved how the murders were based on a local myth of the Carrion King. I’ve never read a book that focuses on myths and it was very creative. The world building was superb and it was all very detailed. It was easy to get lost in this book and emerge however many hours later. I read it very quickly and it’s the first in a series so I’m excited to see what’s going to happen next for these characters.
There is a prologue at the start which is from the point of view of the first victim. It was so intense it honestly gave me goosebumps. I was so creeped out but so impressed at the same time. I had to put the book down and take a few seconds to gather my thoughts. It was a very exciting start to the book. The rest of the story is split between Elspeth’s point of view and the killer’s point of view. It’s so strange when you find out who the killer is because he acts so normal in person but then when you read his chapters he seems almost like a savage. George Mann did a great job writing his chapters because he really comes across as a twisted psychopath.
Elspeth Reeves is the main character and I did like her but she did annoy me quite a bit. She is a very persistent and nosey character. She kind of forces her way into the investigation and even when she knows she isn’t supposed to be doing something she does it anyway. I admit if she didn’t the story wouldn’t work but it just annoyed me sometimes! Like when she first gets home there is a body in the woods behind her house so she goes snooping. When she gets caught she doesn’t get in any trouble because she used to be friends with the detective. This was very strange to me because she has deliberately gone where she shouldn’t have and just got away with it? She is told by people not to get involved but she does anyway. She makes excuses for it saying she is a journalist and it’s her job but it just doesn’t seem believable to me.
What bothered me about this book was how easily Elspeth was able to get on the case and team up with her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate the murders. She basically figures out that the killer is recreating the murders in the local myth of the Carrion King. He has a group of followers pretty much and he ends up murdering them all in gruesome and creative ways. Since Elspeth was able to figure this out Peter then approaches her and consults with her on every murder that follows. She attends crime scenes, suspect interviews and house callings. I wasn’t too impressed by this as it seemed very unrealistic to me. Elspeth is only a journalist. She is not a detective. Why is she so easily allowed to look at the case files and investigate the murders? Why is a detective coming to her for help? You are the detective! You shouldn’t be asking a journalist for help. Another way she gets to attend suspect interviews is because she is the reporter for the murders. How is this a good enough reason to be on a murder case? I was honestly baffled because it seemed so far-fetched. It also annoyed me how easily she got a job as a writer for the local paper. It all felt too easy and convenient for the story.
Another part that annoyed me was when Peter and Elspeth interview a suspect, they discuss other suspects and readily give away information on the case. This all felt very wrong to me because shouldn’t the other suspects have confidentiality? And why are they discussing the case with a person they suspect is the killer? I was completely and utterly baffled by this and it didn’t seem like a good way to solve a murder.
I loved how much detail went into explaining the myth of the Carrion king. It’s explained throughout in little chunks which I felt was so much better because it doesn’t have a massive info-dump at the start. It’s so much better to take it all in when it’s explained in parts and it was definitely interesting. The Carrion King is a tragic story filled with betrayals and murders. The murders were very gruesome indeed and very detailed. You also get to see how the killer picks his victims and this is very interesting because it all relates back to the Carrion King. Even though some parts weren’t great the plot with the Carrion King was definitely interesting and quite exciting at times!
The ending was good but I don’t like how easily the murderer gave himself up. It all felt very anti-climactic. It was building up towards an explosive ending and I was expecting a fight or a shooting, something exciting. But I felt disappointed when they easily caught him without any back up. It’s kind of like the typical villain explaining everything to the good guys but then he gets distracted and is caught in two seconds. Very disappointing. I didn’t guess who the killer was though which is good because it caught me off-guard and was a surprise.
Overall I did enjoy this book but I think it could have done with some improvements. I didn’t like how the investigation was handled and how Elspeth found herself at every crime scene but she wasn’t a suspect herself. They just readily accepted she was always there and didn’t question it. I didn’t think the detectives were very realistic and I have read better crime thrillers but I still enjoyed this book. I did enjoy the Carrion King myth and the murders. It was very creative and definitely the best part of this story.
She sensed movement, and risked a glance over her shoulder.
Around her, the Wychwood seemed silent and still. Even the shrill cawing of the crows seemed distant, now: the laughter of an audience that had already moved on to the next joke.
Had she shaken him off? Had he given up and fled in fear of discovery?
Her heart was hammering, her breath coming in short, sharp gulps. She felt lightheaded, disorientated. How long had she been running? It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but she’d lost all sense of passing time.
She’d torn her dress on a branch and laddered her expensive stockings. She’d abandoned her high heels in the car park, along with her handbag, containing her phone. She cursed, wishing she’d held onto it long enough to call for help. Sweat was beaded on her brow, pooling in the soft hollow at the base of her throat. Her hands were trembling and her head was pounding.
Blood was matting her hair, trickling down the side of her face where he’d struck her in the car park.
Frantically, she fought her way through the undergrowth, feeling the damp earth oozing into her stockings. What did he want? Why her?
She let out an involuntary whimper. She was going to die here, out in the middle of nowhere, in the cold and wet. Her body was going to be dumped amongst the mossy tree roots, to be found the next day by a dog walker or a rambler, covered in blood and dew.
She fought a wave of panic. She had to keep her wits about her. Her attacker was still out here, somewhere, lurking amongst the trees. She might not be able to fight him off again. Last time she’d surprised him, giving him a sharp punch to his gut as he’d dragged her into the woods. This time, though, he’d be ready.
She could still smell his cheap aftershave; see the snarl as he’d reached out to grab her. She’d known then that he meant to kill her.
She couldn’t allow that leering face to be the last thing she saw. She had to find somewhere to get help.
Up ahead, she could see the dim lights of a building through the willowy fingers of the trees. If she could make it to the house, she’d be safe. No one would turn her away. She’d call the police, and everything would be all right.
Something rustled in the dry leaves behind her. She felt suddenly nauseated. She knew it was him. She could hear his thin, reedy breath, whistling between his teeth as he ran. He was gaining on her.
Tears pricked her eyes. She glanced behind her to see him rear up out of the trees like some nightmarish spectre. He was cloaked in shadows, as if he’d somehow wrapped the darkness around him to form a downy mantle.
“No!” she moaned, forcing herself to run faster, digging for any final reserves of energy. Branches whipped her face, drawing beads of blood, but she barely noticed them as she fought her way towards the light. So close now…
She felt a hand on her shoulder, fingers digging into her flesh, and she twisted, trying desperately to shake him off. And then suddenly she was falling, spinning towards the ground as he shoved her hard in the back. She threw her hands out to break her fall.
The heels of her hands slipped on the slick mud, and she rolled, jarring her elbow. She cried out, scrabbling quickly to her feet, expecting him to grab her at any moment, to burst out of the shadows and strike her again.
She glanced around, desperately looking for something – anything – she could use as a weapon, but there was nothing but the trees, silent and still. She balled her hands into fists. She wasn’t about to give in now.
He loomed out of the trees before her. His arms were outstretched, beckoning for embrace.
“No…” she murmured, her voice wavering. “Stay back.”
“Shhh,” he said, and his voice was eerily calm and reasonable. “It’ll all be over soon. It’ll be so much easier if you just let it happen.”
He came for her, and she thrashed out, striking him hard in the chest. He staggered back, surprised by the ferocity of the blow. She pressed her advantage, pummelling him again and again, raging breathlessly until he was forced to raise his arms to protect his face.
She felt a sudden surge of hope. Maybe she could do this. Maybe there was still time to get away.
And then he was lurching forward again, grabbing her by the upper arms, pinning her in place. She tried to kick, but he twisted out of the way. She fought to free herself from his grip, but he was too strong. He forced her back against a tree.
She parted her lips to scream, but he clamped his palm over her mouth, squeezing painfully. She tried to bite down as he twisted her head to one side, tasting something bitter on his fingers, but his other arm shifted, and she felt a sharp prick in the exposed side of her neck.
“There,” he said, his voice calm and level. He almost sounded reasonable. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
She thrashed, but he pinned her there as the warm liquid spread into her shoulder, flushing through her bloodstream, and as the sedative took hold and the woozy feeling overcame her, the last thing she heard was the rustle of feathers as he gently laid her down amongst the fallen leaves.