The Mark of Cain
Publisher: The Bodley Head
ISBN 978 1 782 30019 9
The new novel from Lindsey Barraclough is a masterly achievement. It's a hefty read coming in at almost 500 pages, but every word adds to the chilling atmosphere and seriously spooky tale. It is superior in every way to most YA offerings that have come out in the last 12 months, at least.
This is a cold, shiver-inducing ghost story, and Barraclough tells it slowly, building up the tension without any tricks or unnecessary effects. The Mark of Cain is the follow up to Barraclough's highly-praised Long Lankin, but it works excellently as a stand-alone novel, and a new reader will have no problems being sucked into the story from page one.
The first 60 pages of Cain almost work as a complete story in themselves, and set out the fear that is to come.
In 1567, a baby girl is found abandoned amongst the reeds on the banks of a lake. She is taken in and brought up by two outcast witch-women, who call her Aphra. The two women are not sure if Aphra is a human child or if she was just pushed up through the mud for them to find, but they look after her and soon realise that the girl possesses very strong abilities in the dark arts. After a fire destroys her home and kills her two guardians, Aphra is left to fend for herself. Years of begging and stealing make her strong, but everyone she meets shuns and fears her. When the wife and child of the lord of Guerdon Manor are murdered, Aphra is burned as a witch. But with her dying breath, she vows to return - for revenge.
The story then skips forward to the 1960s. Young sisters Cora and Mimi Guerdon, the last in the family line, have come with their father to live in Guerdon Hall, the ancient mansion that saw murder four centuries ago.
When the girls' father arranges for some restoration work to be done on the old house, Aphra's spirit is released. She is intent on finishing what she began 400 years ago.
The Mark of Cain is probably the most bone-chilling novel around at the moment - it should come with a pair of thermal gloves to prevent the reader's hands from freezing. Barraclough goes for the slow, steady chill, never rushing the reader from one scene to another, or throwing in shocks just for the sake of it.
This superior work of young adult fiction is superbly written: cold, dark and spine-chilling. Barraclough's return to this world of chills, dark magic and shadows is truly outstanding.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com