Author Gillian White
Georgie is a London social worker in flight from unwanted tabloid celebrity when a child who is part of her caseload is killed. The little girl's father has been under suspicion of abusing the child, and Georgie is accused by the press of having ignored all the warning signs and abandoned the little girl to her father's cruel, and finally fatal, beating. When Georgie inherits her estranged brother's cottage, she leaves the city for the isolated countryside. With some help from her friends, Georgie settles in and takes stock of her new neighbors. For a while, Georgie is distracted by restoring the cottage to something approaching livability and cleaning up the garden shed, where something strange has clearly been going on. One day, Georgie sees a mysterious and threatening stranger on the hill, and everything changes. Step by step, the horror increases as a snowstorm approaches, cutting Georgie off from safety.
Review: If you read the synopsis for this book over at Goodreads, you'll notice it is a lot longer and pretty much reveals a great deal of the story. I decided to clip and snip it. I'm hoping the final released copy will be shaped up into something more eye-catching. I'm not a fan of the long-winded, detailed back cover. I suppose some readers enjoy this, but in my opinion, it gives too much away. Honestly, after reading the cliff notes, why bother to read the book? So, I did a little editing to give you a taste.
Putting that aside, Unhallowed Ground by Gillian White is a tale that creeps along climaxing in horror. The chills are slow-growing and the eeriness builds over the pages. The cast is packed full of weird English people that all seem like probable suspects. However, this is a predictable misdirect and any experienced mystery/horror reader will pick up on it immediately. Likely, you won't figure out the culprit until the end simply because you're never introduced or given the opportunity to put them on the list. The person is unknown not only to the main character, but also the reader. Withholding is a tactic, and it isn't too bad in this case, but the reveal and sudden ending happens so quickly that it might be a bit hard to digest. Considering the tension and attentive detailing throughout the entire book, I was somewhat flustered when the final curtain dropped.
Thematically, there is a lot going on including: abuse, loyalty, love, lifestyle, friendship etc. The psychological character development is outstanding. Setting detail and tension building are excellently crafted. My only gripe is the whodunnit twist and final outcome. To make this story truly great, Unhallowed Ground needed to drop a line and tie in the hook better for a more powerful and thematically relevant ending. Otherwise, why do all the work during the set up if it's just going to turn into a plot driven action at the end?
The cast of oddballs are all provided with background for their traits and behaviors, which are readily revealed throughout the story. Well, all except for two, and they just happen to be the trigger and suspect. Their weirdness and relationship with the surroundings and people involved crave a more defined reasoning for cause and effect if understanding and/or sympathy is to be achieved.
*ARC provided by Open Road Integrated Media courtesy of Netgalley