My goodness, where to begin! If you are a fan of leisurely paced pastoral crime novels, complete with all the tropes – short-sighted vicars, inquisitive spinsters, toffs at the manor house with a dark secret – then maybe this book isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you want 200 pages of non-stop action which includes, in no particular order, attempted homicide by combine harvester, a centuries-old family feud, a touch of incest, more shotgun shootouts than the OK Corral and a flood of Old Testament intensity, then stay tuned.
We are in rural Lancashire, the English county which includes Liverpool, Manchester and Preston, but still has its open spaces and farms which have been in the same hands for generations. Thornton ‘Thor’ Loxley is the youngest of the Loxley clan, and something of a black sheep. Despite inheriting a patch of land according to family custom, he has chosen to cock a snook at the family’s most entrenched tradition by not pursuing the generations-old enmity with a neighbouring family – the Crooks. Thor has gone about this in a manner most likely to cause maximum offence to both houses – he has taken the youngest Crook daughter, Roisin, as his lover.
Thor scrapes by as a barman in a local pub, and has a rudimentary bedsit over the local post office, but his world is turned on its head when he discovers that someone is trying to kill him. Not without taking a knock or two, Thor survives, and concludes that the attempts on his life are connected to the efforts of developers to buy up his patch of the Loxley land to add to a much bigger chunk of Crook territory. The result will be thousands of newcomers to the area, complete with pressing demands for new schools, new infrastructure and new services.
As Thor staves off yet more attempts on his life, nature takes a hand. A constant deluge of rain turns meadows into swamps, streams into rivers, and rivers into torrents. The local village is becoming an unwanted version of Venice, but just as nature seems to be wreaking vengeance on humanity, the ancient feud between the Loxleys and the Crooks ignites with a white-hot flame that not even the constant rain can extinguish. Pure survival instinct takes over as Thor Loxley fights to keep both body and sanity in one piece, but in a dramatic few hours amid the biblical flood, he realises that he has been betrayed in the worst possible way.
This novel moves as fast – and with as much menace – as the catastrophic flood through which the Loxleys and the Crooks struggle to exact terrible vengeance on one another. It is not a long book – you will finish it in a couple of sessions – but it is powerful stuff and illustrates that not everything in rural England is fragrant honeysuckle on a summer evening or a kind sun highlighting the amber stone of ancient cottages.
Robert Parker lives in a village near Manchester with his family. He has degrees in both film and law and, while writing full time, still has the energy to enjoy boxing and helping local schools with literacy projects. He is a self-confessed readaholic and says that his glass is always half full. Crook’s Hollow is published by BLACK ROSE WRITING www.blackrosewriting.com and is out on 22 March 2018.