"FUIMUS - We Have Been"

"FUIMUS - We Have Been!" motto of Clan Bruce

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

BOOK NOOK; Witch Hunt by Syd Moore

A great spooky read for chilly autumn nights.
As the summer draws to a close and the first chill of autumn scents the air, I am always drawn to spooky ghost stories and witchy tales.  I came across Witch Hunt by Syd Moore on Amazon, recommended to me because I bought Pamela Hartshorne's Time's Echo  and because I buy a lot of Barbara Erskine and Susanna Kearsley time-slip novels.

Witch Hunt  tells the story of  Sadie Asquith, an Essex journalist researching local witch hunts of the past for a book and a series of articles she is writing.  As she delves into the past, the tormented souls of lost witches begin to haunt her and she discovers a link between the Essex exploits of Mathew Hopkins, Witchfinder General and the witch trails in America that culminated at Salem.  She becomes convinced that Hopkins found some way to skip town and set up a fresh branch of his evil business across the Pond.  As she uncovers more about Hopkins and her own links to the Essex witch trials, Sadie is determined to bring about a modern pardon and justice for those executed for witchcraft centuries before.

What I found most interesting about this novel is the approach the author has taken in dealing with the atrocities of the witch trials.  Moore doesn't subscribe to the popular view of Hopkins as a misguided religious fanatic who believed he was doing God's work.  Instead, she pulls his crimes firmly into the 21st century mind-set, dealing with them in a modern way and thereby presenting Mathew Hopkins as a sexual predator and serial killer.  This approach lends the novel something of a murder mystery or crime thriller polish and there is certainly a mystery to be uncovered beneath the ghostly atmosphere.

To back up this viewpoint, Moore makes parallels with other serial killers and modern day witch hunts that are still going on in certain parts of the world, illustrating the fact that witch hunts are not just a sensationalized aspect of history, but are very much a part of current society.   It is a chilling notion and one of those novels that makes the reader rethink the subject matter.  The questions that the protagonist, Sadie, struggles with are quite intriguing; What if Hopkins really did start the Salem witch trials; What if he had a family in the US; What if descendants of Hopkins returned to Britain with political ambitions to gain a powerful position in Westminster?  Would the witch hunts begin again or would amends be made?

All this in woven deep into the plot lines of  a sophisticated ghost story and supports the overall story arc. There are some lighter hearted moments (I laughed out loud at the naughty Spoonerism on page 11) and an effective use of chapter hooks that kept me turning the pages.  For readers with ambitions to write there is a pretty accurate portrayal of what it is like to be a freelancer writing for magazines and as that's my job it made me relate even more to the main character.  Overall this is a thought-provoking novel and a great read for the darker nights...but watch out for the moths!

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