The Village Witch is the seventh novel from writer, Neil Davies, and the second of three books he’s published with Omnium Gatherum. It follows the (mis)fortunes of Tim Galton, ex-special forces soldier, when he returns to his old hometown of Byre. There he encounters and saves Professor Alexander Hall and the professor’s daughter, Susan, when they are attacked in the car park by a band of youths. At first he thinks this to be nothing but a violent yet unpremeditated assault. However, the Professor and his daughter are paranormal investigators, and all three of them soon find themselves drawn into the dark and diabolical deeds that are happening in Byre. They discover that many of the inhabitants of Byre are under the sway of The Village Witch, Katrina, a woman with whom Tim finds he is still in love. And Katrina has a very powerful ally, growing in strength and just waiting to be released.
This novel started out very promisingly indeed. Davies gave an evocative description of the feelings you get upon returning to childhood place. He eloquently describes the essence of the place while at the same time detailing the changes, and how they’re viewed by Tim.
He also managed to get across the politics, power struggles and general charm of a small country town. I could visualise Byre and it’s people so easily in my head, and it takes a great writer to build a landscape so effortlessly.
The pacing of this novel is adept; I never lost interest and had all the information I needed without any obvious plot dumps. I felt that Tim’s grand statement towards the end that he started it so he had to end it was a bit over dramatic and didn’t really fit with the plot that went before it. But the deaths of some of the characters were handled well and were not meaningless. The ending was a satisfying blend of gore and suspense, with a hint towards possible sequels.
If I had to summarise this novel, I’d say it was like an episode of “Midsomer Murders” directed by M Night Shyamalan: there is the small town crime angle suffused with full and brutal witchcraft.
However, as much as I enjoyed it, I found two main flaws with this novel. Firstly, I had issues with the character of Susan. Generally I liked Davies’ characters; they were diverse and had a great vitality to them that made them leap off the page. They have endearing character traits; I chuckled at the way the professor lectures himself in own head. The exception to all this was Susan, who just didn’t seem credible or consistent – a bit of a problem when she’s one of the protagonists. What irked me the most was her apparent hostility towards Tim: I found it quite baseless and I got irritated when she failed to change her mind about him. Even when she did change her mind, she sniped at him in a way that made me dislike her as a character.
Secondly, with so many viewpoints at the beginning, that it took me a while to connect with or empathise with any character in particular. As the novel progressed, naturally I got a stronger sense of the individual characters (and, as noted above, I loved their little quirks), but still held at a distance by all of them. It didn’t help that Davies occasionally shifted viewpoint for a couple of sentences mid-scene, which broke my mental connection with the character.
In fairness, the reason that there were so many viewpoints is because there is so much going on that it needs multiple viewpoints to keep track of it all. And after a while, when I’d gotten to know and love the characters, it didn’t bother me at all.
These small flaws are just me being picky; I loved this book. If there was a sequel, I’d be paying my money over for it now. The Village Witch would especially appeal to commuters since the chapters are divided into conveniently small sections, just perfect for a bus or train ride.
Go and buy this book. But don’t blame me if you can’t look at statues in the graveyard the same way again…
Something dark and ancient stirs in the heart of an English village, awaiting its moment. For Tim, returning home from serving in the army, there will be more battles to come. With a haunted house, Gothic isolation, supernatural terrors, sacrifice, disappearances, murders and random acts of violence, The Village Witch has all the classic elements of horror. Told from multiple points of view, with fully-formed characters nicely differentiated, some on the side of the supernatural, others investigating it, yet others fearing it and some completely oblivious, the village feels genuinely populated, and all the strands twist and turn to a thrilling denouement. Especially recommended for those holidaying in Devon!