Wychwood by George Mann

Review published on August 18, 2017.

This is not my usual choice of novel and I thought it would be interesting to try to read and review a different genre. It’s a story full of mystery, myth and paganism and will no doubt appeal to crime/horror fans. As such, I thought it was well structured and exciting. The author sets up the story of the ‘Carrion King’, an old legend concerning an outcast boy who made the woods his home and gathered around him a cast of disciples. His sole intent was to revenge his abusers, and he began a ritualistic killing spree, retreating further into Wychwood and spreading fear within the community. Now it seems someone is emulating the Carrion King and using the same devices and visual rituals from the legends.

I found this novel fast paced and full of events and happenings, which kept me engaged and interested in the unfolding of the story. Chapter 1 starts with a chase through the woods written from the female victim’s perspective. It is full of tension and fear, and launches the reader straight away into the story. The author builds tension dropping clues with back-story and a variety of characters which helps to keep the reader guessing as to the killer’s identity. The first couple of chapters introduce the main characters: Elspeth Reeves, a journalist on the run from her collapsed London life; Peter Shaw, a Detective Inspector and former childhood friend, and Elspeth’s mother, who provides a bolt hole for Elspeth back in her old stamping ground. At first Ellie is not sure how long she plans to stay. Her marriage in tatters and the loss of her job mean she will have to decide fairly quickly though.

After the first murder in the woods behind her mother’s house, which Ellie stumbles upon, she suddenly remembers some woodcut images from a book and shares her knowledge with Peter who is investigating the case. This is the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between the two old friends and I think it’s all too clear where this is leading. I found this working partnership between a reporter and a Detective Inspector a bit hard to believe. I didn’t think it realistic that she would be so involved in all the murder scenes, interviews and arrests, but I surmise it was a device to aid the romantic element of the story and I suppose it worked.

As I got further into the story I enjoyed the individual ‘voice’ of each of the characters and the contrast between the first and third person narration. But…it was fairly predictable. As early as Chapter 4 I wrote a note to myself about what I thought would happen and how all the threads would tie together and resolve. Two out of three predictions were correct. There were a couple of instances which I found hard to swallow towards the end off the novel, procedure-wise. The police were sent out to protect three potential victims. Two of them were picked up, but the third was not, despite the person being at home all evening. It was obvious that this was to be a final victim and the conclusion of the story. However, the tension is building all the time and making this an enjoyable and suspenseful read right to the end and the characters were interesting and believable for the most part.

I found this a strange little book. I quite liked it. All the same, I don’t think I will go out of my way to read another George Mann novel as its just not a genre that I’m really interested in.

I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the crime genre.

Jane Bell 4/4

Wychwood by George Mann
Titan Books 9781783294091 pbk Sep 2017

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