Review: BLOOD HARVEST by S.J. Bolton

TheBloodHarvestBoltonS5457_fThe Fletcher family have moved into the (thankfully fictional) village of Heptonclough in rural England. There’s a new reverend in town too. Creepy ancient traditions kept alive by the villagers provide an overall air of gloominess and when something of a trend towards small girls going missing becomes evident, things start to turn seriously scary.

At times BLOOD HARVEST had me enthralled but in the end it just missed ticking most of the “things I like in my crime fiction” boxes. Ultimately it went a bit too far.

As a die-hard city girl I’m fairly easily persuaded that rural life anywhere is like an episode of Midsomer Murders, with evil-doers aplenty and an overall “people who live in the country are all barking mad” sensibility but this book stretched the bounds of credibility on this score even for me. It relied a bit too heavily on multiple clichés including haunted churches, bad weather and an all-powerful Lord-of-the-Manor type, so that by about the three-quarter mark I was eye-rolling more often than reaching for the comfort blanket.

The character development was more successful however with the central cast all being quite credible and some, including the Fletcher children, delightfully understated. These days it is not unreasonable to expect any religious characters in a crime novel to be somewhat suspect but as the new reverend responsible for re-opening the local church Harry Laycock is devoid of suspicious behaviour and his struggles with the village atmosphere are well-depicted and within the bounds of believability. Where the novel fell down a bit for me though was with regard to his love life. Evi is a psychologist who is treating one of Harry’s parishioners and their never-quite-on relationship just doesn’t ring true. I didn’t object to the inclusion of a romantic element but its tortured progress read more like something from a teenage romance novel which was quite out of keeping with the rest of the story.

The plot had lots to admire but again fell short of hitting the mark for me. At nearly 550 pages the book is a long one and it did drag in places as very convoluted relationships between the present and the past were explained and other unnecessary exposition filled up space. At other times though it does rip along and the gothic sensibility did draw me in. Which of the Fletcher children is at risk? Are they seeing a ghost? If not, who or what is disturbing them? And which of the creepy villagers is not who they appear to be? These questions and more kept me reading late into the night.

In the end I suppose BLOOD HARVEST is not a bad novel though it is not as good as Bolton’s earlier two works (SACRIFICE and AWAKENING both of which I loved) and it just seems to have taken one step too far on several levels. That said, it is atmospheric and creepy: maybe one for fans of gothic horror rather than ‘straight’ crime.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Transworld [2011]
ISBN 9780552159791
Length 544 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone

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3 Responses to Review: BLOOD HARVEST by S.J. Bolton

  1. I know what you mean about ‘pushing it a bit too far,’ Bernadette. The premise sounds interesting, and I agree that rural villages are great contexts. But the convoluted relationships and ‘stock’ things like haunted churches? I can see why this didn’t quite do it for you.


  2. Belle Wong says:

    This sounds like an interesting read – probably because I’ve been on a bit of a horror novel kick recently. I think I’ll check out SACRIFICE and AWAKENING first, though.


  3. EastEndLass says:

    I really liked it – BUT, I had the added benefit of getting it as an audiobook, with a very good narrator – so the scary bits were directly into my head!


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