Chapel Croft, in rural England, is not her first choice for places to lay low but orders from the bishop send Reverend Jack Brooks and her daughter, Flo, from Nottingham to the hinterlands in C.J. Tudor’s chilling novel, The Burning Girls. This lightning-paced mystery sees Jack dealing with more-than-usually-suspicious rural people, a history of witch-burning, and a lot of buried secrets—while Flo meets a strange boy and has to contend with some nasty bullies. Readers who like their rural settings with a strong dollop of the sinister will like this one.
The Burning Girls races through its several plots mostly in scenes of dialogue. Reverend Jack knows that something is not right in Chapel Croft almost from the first moment, when she finds creepy twig dolls known locally as burning girls near the church soon after moving into the vicarage. Sure, the local traveling vicar and other upright members of the community tell Jack that this a venerable and harmless local tradition, but these dolls are just harbingers of what’s to come. Flo starts to roam the country with a new friend named Wrigley (though no one seems to trust this kid) only to find her own hints of evil. The interstitial chapters start to reveal the story of what happened to two girls who mysteriously vanished thirty years prior in a case that was never fully investigated. Oh, and there’s an extremely violent man on Jack’s trail, who is eventually revealed to be a big reason Jack is in hiding.
The Burning Girls definitely fits my criteria for overstuffed. (The ending is definitely a wild, crowded ride.) There are so many plots in this book! Chapters skip from one to another, each adding a little bit more to what we readers know about what’s really going on. What made this book more tolerable for me (I really don’t like it when books try to do too much and half-ass everything) was the wonderful character of Jack—I love a vicar who is more interested in actually taking care of a flock than in rigidly adhering to dogma—and that Tudor’s villains are just disturbed enough that they didn’t really need a lot of backstory to explain their behavior without tipping the balance into outrageous. Readers who want a lot of psychological depth should look elsewhere. Instead, I’d hand this to readers who want a fast, scary read with an original protagonist.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.