The widowed Reverend Jack (Jacqueline) Brooks and her fifteen year old daughter have recently been transferred to the small rural parish of Chapel Croft in Sussex. After a scandal put her in the newspapers in Nottingham, Jack’s superior deemed it advisable for her to relocate. Her daughter, Flo, is unhappy with the move ‘to the sticks‘. She misses her friends and her city school.
When they arrive they find a somewhat neglected old cottage next door to what can only be described as a ‘creepy’ old church. A box has been held for her, a sort of housewarming gift. In it are the makings of an exorcism kit… Jack learns that the previous vicar tried to burn the chapel down.Jack learns that in this tiny village, the social hierarchy prevails. The rich family of the parish seems to wield all the power. There are secrets in abundance, and Jack feels that everyone knows something that she does not know… Ancient history and superstition coupled with some more recent disappearances haunt the village.
When her daughter Flo, encounters the local bully, she becomes troubled. Then, when Flo falls through the floor of the old Chapel, her interest is well and truly piqued…
“If you see the burning girls, something bad will befall you.”
First of all, I have to say that I really liked the character of Rev. Jack Brooks. Unconventional doesn’t even begin to describe her personality. She drinks, smokes, and enjoys listening to “The Killers” at full volume – not exactly the kind of person you associate with a woman of the cloth. I also liked the relationship she had with her daughter. Flo seemed like a level-headed girl with an ardent interest in photography – even developing her own film. Despite the usual generational conflicts, they seemed to rub along well together and had a mutual caring and respect.
The furtive and oftentimes mendacious villagers give off an unsettling vibe. And as for the Harpers, the powerful and wealthy village family, some members of them are downright frightening.
There are two stories going on here and both are taking place in the present day. Jack and her daughter’s move to the village and the secrets they unearth, AND, Jack’s brother Jacob, who has recently been released from prison. Their stories connect in a profound way.
There are also some paranormal vibes throughout the novel as both Jack and her daughter have sightings of ‘burning girls’.
I was surprised by a few of the plot twists within the story, and I was reminded once again that people are not always what they seem on the surface. The book causes the reader to ponder on whether people can be born evil, or whether their lives have shaped them that way.
There are many themes running throughout the novel. Abandonment issues, nature vs. nurture, complicity, and the lengths some people with go to preserve their social standing and reputation.
This novel seems to defy genre. Part suspense thriller, part folk horror, part missing persons mystery, it serves to make a very enjoyable and compelling read. Highly recommended!Some favorite quotes from this novel:
“I remind myself that old age is not a disease but a destination.”
“Guilt is a little like grief. A cancer of the soul. They both hollow you out from the inside.”
“We all have our hiding places. Not just physical ones. Places deep inside where we put away the things we don’t want others to see.”
“Bad memories are like splinters. Sometimes painful, but you learn to live with them. The problem is, they always work their way up to the surface eventually.”
“We think of love as being unconditional, but very few of us ever want to put that to the test.”
“I think again how unprepared we are for illness and old age. How we trundle toward it unthinkingly, like lemmings toward the edge of a cliff. The tiny humans we coo over at the start of their lives, we shudder to look upon at the end.”
Published: February 9, 2021 Publisher: Doubleday Canada
ISBN: 9780385694216 – ASIN: B087PL8B2S – 352 pages
C. J. TUDOR is the author of The Other People, The Hiding Place, and The Chalk Man, who won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel and the Strand Magazine Award for Best Debut Novel. Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voice-over artist, and dog walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much. She lives in England with her partner and her daughter. The Burning Girls is her fourth novel.
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