Reviewed by Chris Longmuir
I read and assessed many crime fiction novels for my non-fiction book Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution, and House of the Wicked, by D M Mitchell, was one of the books I chose for my chapter on historical crime.
I chose this one after looking at D M Mitchell’s Amazon author page, where his work is compared to a selection of writers including Dean Koontz, who is a favourite of mine. However, when I started reading I had mixed feelings. It was written in a gothic style, and the writing was more literary than mainstream. As a result I was unable to get into the characters. There was also an excessive use of the pronoun ‘he’ which led to some confusion between the characters. Further confusion in the storytelling was caused by the frequent use of flashbacks with no transition between the past and present (in story terms). However, the flashbacks were needed, particularly as the book developed, but I would have appreciated knowing when it was a flashback.
The first part of the book was quite slow, concentrating on the background to the story. It was only after I passed the halfway point I started to become gripped, and it turned into a real page turner. Readers who like their historical fiction written in a historical style will probably find this book to their taste. However, if the reader finds the story slow to start, I would say persevere because the latter half of the book is an exciting read with an ending that surprised even me.
Despite the negatives for me in this book, there were also a lot of positives. Porthgarrow, the setting of the story, is a superstition ridden community. The people are suspicious of incomers and believe Baccan, a mythical creature, influences their lives. The story is atmospheric, and there is a real gothic feel to it as it fluctuates between crime and horror. I particularly liked the mystery surrounding the death of Jowan Connoch’s mother, and the aftermath that had for her son. The author uses language and imagery well which contributes to the overall feeling of doom and gloom, and there was a pervading sense of mystery throughout the whole book, although that did not always lead to suspense in the writing.
On the whole, I am glad I stuck with this book mainly because of the increasing pace in the latter half, the mystery, and the unexpected ending. And interestingly, this last book was the one that stayed with me the longest after I had moved to other categories, which I found surprising, considering my reaction to it at the time.
There is aways an unavoidable subjective element when assessing or reviewing a book, and the negatives for me rose from the fact I don’t particularly like my historical novels written with historical language, and in a historical way, nor do I like literary fiction. I like my crime fiction written in a pacy modern way, even though the story is set in the past. However, many readers like the historic writing style of historical fiction, therefore this book would have many positives for them. All I can say is, that despite my own initial reaction to the book, I would actually recommend it as a good read.
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You can find the assessment of many more books in Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution, as well as information on publishing, the history of crime fiction, indie authors, and a description of many genres of crime and mystery fiction.