Witch Hunt by Syd Moore

Narrated by proud Essex Girl Sadie Asquith, Syd Moore's Witch Hunt mingles ghostly horror with mystery and a dash of chick lit*, along with a sprinkling of historical fact and a smidgeon of psychogeography.

I enjoyed the horror, the mystery and the fascinating details of the 17th century witch hunts and the appalling injustices dished out by Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins. The chick lit? Not so much. Sadie was an independent and capable heroine who, coping with a recent bereavement and juggling a brand new book deal with her career as a freelance journalist, I might have preferred not be going giddy over her new editor whose eyes are 'flecked with quartz' or calling on her cute policeman friend Joe to rescue her from time to time. Having said that, I was glad to see that this became a relatively minor aspect of the story and wasn't wholly resolved in what might have been the easiest or most obvious way, which is a plus.

Women - Essex women in particular, whether they're from the present day or from centuries past - are the strongest and most memorable characters in this book, and it's a better read for that. It's also worth adding that Essex is almost a character in itself in Witch Hunt. I grew up just over the border in Hertfordshire myself: I know Essex well as a county full of intriguing history, a pleasant coastline and charming villages and consider it unfairly maligned, so I was delighted by Moore's efforts to redress the balance on that score.

Overall, Witch Hunt is an engaging page-turner with an interesting premise and plenty of chilling moments. Moore has clearly done some serious research into Matthew Hopkins and his role in the witch hunts, and this benefits the book tremendously - it's a chilling and gripping subject in itself and it's easy to empathise with Sadie as she becomes increasingly affected by her studies. Sadie's complex family relationships and the shadow of mental illness that hangs over some of them are convincingly and sensitively handled too.

The ghost story elements of Witch Hunt work well, and it's to Moore's credit that they don't all take place in historically significant locations and atmospheric settings: Sadie's experiences in a local castle are nicely written and the chills are easy to imagine, but for me, some of the creepiest moments come when Sadie is logging on to Facebook or catching a train. As the past catches up with the present and Sadie's own connections with the Essex witches start to become clearer

Witch Hunt is Syd Moore's second novel and I think I'll be checking out her first book, The Drowning Pool, as a holiday read in future. I would, however, love to see her attempt a dark historical novel in what seems to be her favourite Essex setting: from Witch Hunt, I got the impression that Moore feels every bit as connected to the women persecuted by Matthew Hopkins as she does to her present-day characters, and I for one would like to read more about them.

*I don't like the term chick lit, and don't really endorse it. But it seems to be the accepted term for the type of fiction I mean, so it's the one I'm going with here. 

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