The Burning Girls – CJ Tudor

“What kind of man am I?”

An unconventional vicar, a scandal, and a sudden move to a small village. It’s supposed to be a fresh start for single parent, Rev Jack Brooks, and 14-year old Flo, dragged along against her will. But dark things lurk in Chapel Croft’s past. Martyrs, burning girls – celebrated with twig figures to this day – and legends that they will appear as a harbinger of trouble. But perhaps not all the horrors are hundreds of years old…

It’s so rare for me to read horror books these days, but CJ Tudor hits such a great combination of strong, modern writing and wholly tapping into my nostalgia from being a teenage Stephen King fan. Indeed, I enjoyed her previous books, The Chalk Man and The Taking of Annie Thorne, both giving me strong King vibes. Those aren’t as obvious here, but the story and writing are still enthralling.

Now, either I’m getting braver, or this book wasn’t as creepy as I’d feared (which meant daylight reading only ;)). That may be a plus or a minus depending on your tastes. There are more than a few scares, but after a couple of early supernatural shivers, a lot more of it seemed to come from more mundane threats. Like King, the real evil tends to be people and the awful things they are capable of. With carefully limited flashbacks and chapters from a new, unknown point of view, the layers of the story – or stories – start to build as the book goes on. Twists and turns aplenty, meaning some things I suspected, and others caught me by surprise.

The setting is perfectly done, conjuring the claustrophobia of small villages miles from anywhere ‘civilised’, and I thought the characters were very well realised. A far from vicar, goth teenagers, uptight local ‘gentry’, and more, all felt like real people. That only adds to the sense of danger and menace.

Overall, I probably think this isn’t quite as strong as the previous books from the author, at least on the creeping-me-out scale. But it was completely worth it for the atmospheric mood conjured, and an intriguing, multi-layered story.

NetGalley eARC: 500 pages / 70 chapters
First published: January 2021
Series: none
Read from 17th-21st January 2021

My rating: 8/10

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