This review is part of the blog tour for the novella. Thank you to The WriteReads and Little Thorn Books for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
A few days before Christmas 1918 and Charlie Briggs arrives in the sleepy town of Petersfield, away from the hustle and bustle of London, and more importantly, safely hidden from those who want to find him. The Great War has not long ended and there are reminders of the fallen everywhere. Charlie, however, has no feelings of sorrow or respect, believing that everybody would rather forget but feels obliged to act out remorse. He avoided the action by having a friend write him a medical note excusing him from battle, but he frequently pretends he was at the Front. Always on the lookout for opportunities to make a quick buck, he is delighted when he discovers an incredibly rare book in the local bookshop. It’s not for sale, meaning a great deal to the owner, but it soon ends up in Charlie’s pocket. He should be long gone by the time they re-open in the New Year, living it up on the proceeds, which would set him up, if only it weren’t for his gambling habit that so often means his money goes just as soon as he gets it. Before long, it becomes apparent that this isn’t your average book. He has a physical reaction when he touches it, and in the days that follow he experiences vivid hallucinations of gas attacks which somehow seep into reality and leave his body covered in painful blisters. He believes himself to be followed by something dark lurking around every corner, and his dreams are haunted by the sad end of the book’s previous owner.
Charlie is not a likeable character. When he ends up staying with a woman connected to the tragic story that accompanies the book, he cares nothing for her suffering but only in finding out more about the provenance of the book, hoping that it will help raise its price. He is constantly looking for victims to pickpocket, and has no real remorse for what he’s done, his only concern is with stopping the nightmares and making his money as quickly as possible. There is a sense that his experiences are giving him a taste of what so many suffered through, events that he piggybacks on to ingratiate himself with his victims. You can’t help but wonder how he’ll ever escape the horror that’s following him. It is a hard-hitting reminder of the horrors of war, this is after all, a haunting based in reality not fantasy.
A well written book that sets the scene neatly. The characters are well drawn and the side characters, who are more sympathetic, will elicit more compassion in the reader. In a short space of time you understand Charlie’s motivations and outlook, and can picture Petersfield clearly. The premise for the story is interesting, and the images truly horrifying. An interesting, evocative read that you can easily get through in one sitting.