Social worker Johnny Malkin is battling a crippling workload and a hostile local community. That’s on a good day: things are about to get a whole lot worse.
Two fourteen-year-old girls are found wandering Aitken Wood on the slopes of Pendle Hill, claiming to have been raped by a gang of men. With no female social workers available, Johnny is assigned to their case. But what, at first, looks like yet another incident of child exploitation takes a sinister turn when the girls start speaking of a forthcoming apocalypse.
When Johnny interviews one of the girls, Jenna Dunham, her story starts to unravel. His investigation draws him into a tight-knit village community in the shadow of Pendle Hill, where whispers of witchcraft and child abuse go back to the Middle Ages.
One name recurs: The Hobbledy Man. Is he responsible for the outbreaks of violence sweeping across the country?
Is he more than just myth?
* * * *Having read and enjoyed Paul Southern's novel, Daddy Dearest, I was excited to hear that he'd written another book.
Pendle Fire is a clever mix of ancient folklore, modern day life and sprinkled with just a hint of the supernatural.
There are several strands to the story line as we follow social worker, Johnny Malkin, who often asks himself "Did I miss something?", Constable Shaf Khan, who is tasked with investigating the claims made by the two young girls and then of course there's The Hobbledy Man.
Some readers may find certain aspects of the story make for uncomfortable reading. I thought that it was a brave move on the authors part to tackle racism, riots and grooming but sadly, these are topics that seem to regularly appear in the news and are a sign of the times in today's world. That said, I feel that the author dealt with them sensitively, it wasn't gratuitous and he'd clearly done his research, which for me made it a very realistic read, but it definietly won't be everyone's cup of tea.
If, like me, you like your fiction to be dark, unsettling and full of tension then Pendle Fire could be just the book for you.
Paul Southern was born in the 1960s to itinerant parents who moved from city to city. He lived in Liverpool, Belfast, London and Leeds, then escaped to university, where he nearly died of a brain haemorrhage. After an unexpected recovery, he co-formed an underground indie group (Sexus). Made immediate plans to become rich and famous, but ended up in Manchester. Shared a house with mice, cockroaches, and slugs; shared the street with criminals. Five years later, hit the big time with a Warners record deal. Concerts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Melody Maker front cover, Smash Hits Single of the Week, Radio 1 and EastEnders. Mixed with the really rich and famous. Then mixed with lawyers. Ended up back in Manchester, broke. He got a PhD in English (he is the world's leading authority on Tennyson's stage plays!), then wrote his first novel, The Craze, based on his experiences of the Muslim community. He has three other published books and has written for ITV. He was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger award in 2002 and received positive reviews from national and international press, including The Guardian, Arena, Radio 4, Ladsmag, and Kirkus, amongst many others.
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With kind thanks to Sarah Hardy at Bloodhound Books and author Paul Southern for the review copy and my spot on the blog blitz.