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?

Dr David Galbraith #2: When Evil Calls Your Name – John Nicholl

Isn’t it strange how our past shapes and torments us when we least expect it?

I’ve heard Dr. Phil say countless times that whatever story he’s focusing on is a cautionary tale. This story is definitely a cautionary tale. If you ever wondered how people wind up in abusive family relationships and how previously confident people transform into meek shadows of their former selves, you’ll gain insight by reading this book. If you weren’t already convinced how calculated and methodical perpetrators are in the execution of the physical and psychological beating down of their victims, here is a great example.

I spent so much time wondering why Cynthia Galbraith was in prison in the first place while reading When Evil Calls Your Name. Surely after the events described in White is the Coldest Colour Cynthia is due for some good fortune. I wondered about the competency of her legal team. The crime she committed seemed as though it should come under the banner of self defence or diminished responsibility.

The more I read though, the more I wondered about her complicity in the atrocities committed by her husband. Does being a victim excuse you from being responsible when you know or at least strongly suspect something heinous is happening in your home? If it’s hidden in plain sight does that give you permission to ignore and deny its presence? At what point does your inaction become criminal?

While not an easy read I found this book easier to digest than the details of Dr Galbraith’s crimes and thought processes of the first book in the series. You could read When Evil Calls Your Name without having already read White is the Coldest Colour but I’d personally recommend reading them in order to get the most out of them. I already had thoughts about Cynthia’s character going into this book and found it interesting to confirm some thoughts and discard others.

Transported from the prison of her home where we left her in White is the Coldest Colour to three years into her sixteen year sentence at White Haven Women’s Prison at the beginning of this book, we uncover the events that led her to White Haven by accessing her therapeutic journal and we also learn about her time behind bars. I appreciated that Cynthia’s story was not sugarcoated. I felt the claustrophobia of her cell and her continued torment as she relived the traumas she experienced through nightmares and recollections. There’s no magical transformation. Instead we see firsthand how the years of abuse continue to be caustic to Cynthia’s self esteem and identity.

I will quibble about the use of the word monster to describe Dr Galbraith and those of his ilk. While it’s certainly convenient and comfortable to label such depravity monstrous but I am not inclined to use that term myself as the label implies they are less than human. If we strip these people of their humanity are we then saying what they did was in their nature, they had no choice and are therefore not responsible for their actions?

Make no mistake; they are human, despite how much we’d prefer to dissociate from them. They are fallible and disgusting humans who make conscious decisions to enforce their will on others, but humans nonetheless. In a way I’m disappointed that the early life of Dr Galbraith has not been explored in the first two books in this series as I would be interested in knowing if there were experiences or behaviour in his childhood that signalled the way his life would unfold.

I don’t want to, and will never, understand why he does what he does other than the desire for power and control. I’m certainly not seeking to excuse anything he’s inflicted on any of his victims but I found it so interesting watching Cynthia’s story unfold that I wonder what I’d feel if I learned more about him.

The much needed update regarding the Mailer family from the first book was welcome but did come across as too simplistic and easy for my liking. The information about the Mailer’s and the final session with Cynthia’s prison counsellor seemed a tad rushed so I was thankful for the epilogue.

I found it interesting that in both books the children in the Galbraith family were largely unseen and silent. I could soliloquise about the silencing of children who grow up in violent homes but instead I’ll just say that, whether this was the author’s intention or not, I noticed and appreciated the authenticity this added to the family dynamics.

I don’t think this book could ever have been as gripping as the first in the series, with its police and child protection investigations and threat of imminent danger to the various victims. However the story this book told was captivating in its own right and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of John Nicholl’s books.

Content warnings include child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, paedophilia, mental health, murder and attempted suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bloodhound Books for introducing me to this brilliant author.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Even the darkest secrets can’t stay hidden forever …

When twenty-nine-year-old Cynthia Galbraith struggles to come to terms with her traumatic past and the realities of prison life, a prison counsellor persuades her to write a diary exploring the events that led to a life sentence for murder.

Although unconvinced at first, Cynthia finally decides she has all the time in the world and very little, if anything, to lose. As she begins writing she holds back nothing: sharing the thoughts she hadn’t dare vocalise, the things that keep her awake at night and haunt her waking hours. 

Will the truth finally be revealed?

Dr David Galbraith #1: White is the Coldest Colour – John Nicholl

I’ve never enjoyed thinking about how many tortuous, excruciating and imaginative ways I could kill off a book villain as much as I did when reading about the big bad in White is the Coldest Colour. This is not a villain that you love to hate. This is a villain you want to suffer as much as possible before his eventual bloody demise.

Dr David Galbraith is many things. He is a husband, a father, an esteemed colleague, a renowned child psychiatrist. He is also a master manipulator and sadistic predator. He terrorises his family and his child victims alike, and he consistently gets away with it because he’s so good at what he does. He uses his intelligence to come across as charismatic and charming when the situation calls for it and because of his position in the community and his chameleonic prowess, no one suspects him. His true colours are only on display when and to whom he chooses, and if his control slips for a moment and his true self is revealed, he can easily lay on the charm and regain control.

While there’s certainly no shortage of paperback villains, Dr David Galbraith stands apart from the usual big bad in the chilling authenticity of his portrayal. The way he interacts with his wife will be hauntingly familiar to readers who have experienced the brutality of domestic violence. The calculated measures undertaken to groom the child and family of a potential new victim will shine a light on the predatory nature of child molesters.

I can’t remember the last book that genuinely scared me before this one. Give me horror, blood and guts, serial killers or clowns and I’ll enjoy watching from the sidelines, but real life? Real life can offer the scariest plots of all and the events in this book will reflect portions of some readers’ reality – and that is scary as hell to think about.

I stumbled upon this book when I found its sequel on NetGalley and needed to know what led to the events in When Evil Calls Your Name before I read Cynthia Galbraith’s story. Having never heard of this author before I’ve now found a new favourite. If John Nicholl’s other books have even echoes of the dark, gritty nature of White is the Coldest Colour then I know I need to read everything he’s ever written.

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s confronting, painful and real. Because of the author’s experience in police and child protection there’s an authenticity to the conversations and behaviours of the predators that gave me the creeps in a way I find lacking in most crime novels.

Content warnings include child abuse, paedophilia, domestic violence, torture, and murder of humans and animals.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Be careful who you trust …

The Mailer family is oblivious to the terrible danger that enters their lives when seven-year-old Anthony is referred to the child guidance service by the family GP, following the breakdown of his parents’ marriage.

Fifty-eight-year-old Dr David Galbraith, a sadistic, predatory paedophile, employed as a consultant child psychiatrist, has already murdered one child in the soundproofed cellar below the South Wales Georgian town-house he shares with his wife and two young daughters.

When Anthony becomes Galbraith’s latest obsession he will stop at nothing to make his grotesque fantasies reality.

But can Anthony be saved before it’s too late?