Zaffre | 2019 (5 September) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is the summer of 1976 and the hot sun scorches the land. The Corvino family are settling into their new home, Iron Sike Farm, in a remote and rural part of Yorkshire. All is quiet at first until the noises begin. The two girls, Loo and Bee, hear it first. Their nights and then their days are disturbed by banging behind the walls, the breeze of breath on their faces, the sudden appearance of bruises on their arms, shaped like pinching fingers. The farm attracts the attention of the local policeman and journalist and then others come – a professor and his assistant – drawn by a need to explain the inexplicable or fail in the attempt.
Years later, in the present day, Loo (now Lucy) returns to the village. Her mother is in a care home where she sees a girl standing outside her window at night, a ghost from the past. Hunters of the paranormal have returned to Iron Sike Farm, desperate for Lucy to help them discover the truth about what happened all those years ago. They sense that Lucy holds the key. And so it might not be a surprise, however much it shocks, when disturbances return to Iron Sike Farm. The past will not stay dead.
I love to read frightening tales, especially those that have a haunted house at its heart. Sadly, they rarely scare me, but The Wayward Girls, on more than one occasion, managed to do just that. It is a very creepy tale indeed, perfect for late night reading. It has all of the appeal of a ghost story. There is also something of Poltergeist about it. Iron Sike Farm is a frightening place indeed. It is irresistible.
But The Wayward Girls is also character-driven and it’s Loo and Bee who hold our attention, although we are also caught up in the lives of the investigators who visit this farm and must deal with what they find, both in the past and in the present. Lucy holds the book together, linking the chapters set in the past with those set in the present. There is a strong sense that she’s been traumatised, that she’s holding something back. We want to get to know her but how much of what happened can she explain?
The paranormal investigators bring with them their own relationships and interactions. They also have links with the past and I loved watching it all come together.
I don’t want to say too much about how these elements all pull together but I must stress that the The Wayward Girls is an atmospheric treat, creating a dark, forbidding place – albeit a family home – where there really are strange noises in the night. I really enjoyed the ways in which the story develops. There are surprises and shocks. I found I accepted it all. That’s largely, I think, because of the marvellous atmospheric mood of chills that the author so successfully evokes. I also enjoyed the movement through the years, including the changing relationship between Lucy and her mother.
I read The Wayward Girls at night by lamplight and I can certainly recommend that you do the same. Frightening ghost stories or tales of haunted houses come along all too infrequently and this one did not disappoint – strange noises, objects moving, seances, creepy voices, there’s all that and more. It haunts the reader. It frightens. It is also extremely difficult to put down. Everything I want from a ghost story, this book gives. That, I think, says it all.