Erin Kelly’s third novel puts a modern twist on a classic archetype:  The English country house mystery.  This is a chilling psychological tale, told from a number increasingly unreliable narrators.

The MacBride family is well-to-do and respectable.  The patriarch is a lauded schoolmaster in a prim and proper English town.  When the mother of the family dies with little warning, the family decides to continue their Guy Fawkes family tradition.  They agree to meet at Far Barn, the homestead, for Bonfire Night, despite their mother’s absence.  Tensions are high and everyone is walking on eggshells.  Characters feel their resolve unravel — and then the real problems start.

Kelly deftly links together the various narrators.  Each has a distinct voice, sometimes frighteningly so.  They get into the reader’s head and even when they are clearly morally demented, we go along with their line of thinking – at least while they are talking.  It makes it so much more than just storytelling.  And as the reader becomes more and more engaged, the book begins to take on a snowball effect.  Situations are more dire, and we read faster and faster, trying to stay ahead of the train that is barreling down upon us.

A Bonfire in Yorkshire
A Bonfire in Yorkshire

She is also adept at moody atmospheric.  Here, the narrator approaches the main location of the book:

The road thinned to a one-track lane as they began the descent into the valley and dipped so steeply the children’s ears popped.  As they came within a mile of the barn, the hedgerows themselves seemed to squeeze their oversized car along the road like a clot through a vein.  Branches jabbed witchy fingers through windows, making the boys scream with something between terror and laughter, and Edie echo their sounds.  The signpost for Far Barn, white paint on a black wooden plaque, had faded into illegibility but new visitors were rare.  Will made the right turn into the rutted track that connected their land to the rest of the world.

The barn was a black mass on a cloud-blind night, the only sign of light or life the reflection of their own headlights in the blank windows and against the gloss of the ebony slats.

The book is fast-paced and suspenseful.  It is a fine example of how powerful perceptions can affect not only one’s own life, but the domino effect on everyone else.  It is chilling and a fantastic read.

Many thanks to Meghan with Viking/Penguin for the review copy.


ISBN 9780670026722
336 pages
21 Feb 2013
Pamela Dorman Books
9.25 x 6.25in
18 – AND UP


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