Pendle Fire – Paul Southern

DNF @ 80%

First, I want to point out that this book currently has a high proportion of 4 and 5 star reviews so please don’t just read my review and decide based on that alone that this book is not for you. I’d encourage you to read positive reviews as well and then decide for yourself if it’s the book for you or not.

I requested a review copy of Pendle Fire from NetGalley (thank you very much to NetGalley and Bloodhound Books for the opportunity) and I was looking forward to reading it, mostly because I wanted to know about the Hobbledy Man. I loved the sound of the centuries of urban legend coming to life, the question mark over the possibility of witchcraft and a potential apocalypse in the mix. It sounded really interesting and like my type of book. I was aware from the blurb that there’d be an investigation by a social worker into the alleged gang rape of two teenage girls so I expected my review would include content warnings for sexual assault.

However I feel like the book I read about in the blurb and the book I attempted to read over the past ten days were two different books. The blurb was accurate to a point but had it included any of the following information I would have known straight away this wasn’t the book for me:

The Racist, Sexist, Homophobic and Anti-Muslim Parts – There are so many instances throughout the book but I’m not going to quote any of the remarks. Basically you have one group against another group to the point of riots. The escalating riots are actually a large part of the book. I know this is real life and I concede that the author did a good job of showing the escalation of the violence but I’m not personally interested in reading about rioting misogynistic, racist, homophobic, anti [insert any religious belief here] idiots, or corrupt cops for that matter.

The Swearing – I can swear with the best of them but there’s swearing and then there’s utter disrespect. I don’t voluntarily spend time with anyone who calls anyone a c***. I don’t want to read about people who speak to people like that either. Maybe you don’t have a problem with that word but I really do and I’m unapologetic about my disgust surrounding its use. Had I not been trying to read this book to review it I would have stopped reading in chapter 2 when it first showed up and I certainly wouldn’t have still been reading for the subsequent seven (so my Kindle tells me) times it was used.

I tried to connect with the characters, especially the social worker, but none of the people in this story made me need to keep reading to find out what happened to them. Even now at 80% I don’t feel like I need to know how the story ends. It took me a lot longer than it probably should have to realise that there were two characters in the book with the same first name. Yesterday when I was explaining my frustration about this book to someone I couldn’t even remember the name the characters shared or which character one of them was in the book, both of which pointed out to me my lack of investment in this story.

Because this isn’t the sort of book that I’d have started had I known what I do now I can’t tell you how it measures up against others with similar themes. I do, however, want to be specific in telling you that I want to separate the behaviour of the characters in the book from its author. Just because I hated all of the racism, sexism, all the other isms and the disgusting actions of the deplorable characters in their book doesn’t mean that I think for a moment that any of these things should be thought of the author.

This book doesn’t make me want to automatically discount this author’s other books but should I come across another one I’ll be looking at more than the blurb before I decide if it’s for me or not.

Content warnings include sexual assault, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Muslim statements, death of a dog, trafficking, grooming and despicable behaviour by despicable humans on drugged victims.

Once Upon a Blurb

Social worker Johnny Malkin is battling a crippling workload and a hostile local community. That’s on a good day: things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Two fourteen-year-old girls are found wandering Aitken Wood on the slopes of Pendle Hill, claiming to have been raped by a gang of men. With no female social workers available, Johnny is assigned to their case. But what, at first, looks like yet another incident of child exploitation takes a sinister turn when the girls start speaking of a forthcoming apocalypse.

When Johnny interviews one of the girls, Jenna Dunham, her story starts to unravel. His investigation draws him into a tight-knit village community in the shadow of Pendle Hill, where whispers of witchcraft and child abuse go back to the Middle Ages.

One name recurs, The Hobbledy Man. Is he responsible for the outbreaks of violence sweeping across the country?

Is he more than just myth?

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