Published: April 18, 2023
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Pages: 320 (Kindle)
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
In the vein of Jennifer Hillier and Lisa Jewell, Jen Williams melds grisly urban legends and macabre secrets in a haunting and propulsive read that will linger long after the last page.
When Charlie was eleven, she created a monster…
In the seaside town of Hithechurch, England, eleven-year-old Charlotte meets Emily, a clever and secretive girl her own age with a dark family history. In an attempt to get rid of Emily’s abusive father, Charlie and Emily perform a ritual to try and summon the spirit of a Hithechurch girl of urban legend—named Stitch Face Sue by Charlie—who was killed by pirates and supposedly haunts the town in a quest for revenge. When it appears that the macabre game they’ve invented is working, Emily becomes obsessed with Stitch Face Sue, and ropes in another girl—but the game goes tragically wrong when the new girl is killed. Charlie and Emily are caught trying to hide the body, and both are carted away to institutions.
Past meets present when Charlie returns to Hithechurch as an adult to research a book on the folklore of the area, but is drawn into the cases of several girls who have mysteriously vanished. And she has other motives for coming back as well. Emily has published a bestselling memoir on the fateful incident from their childhoods, one that lays the blame squarely at Charlie’s feet. Outraged, Charlie scours the town for evidence to back up her side of the story—and in doing so exposes an older, even darker tale.
Charlie is set on discovering the truth about the girls’ disappearances, but someone is watching, and her own past is nipping at her heels. In a town haunted by tragic disappearances and unrelenting urban legends, Charlie’s determination for truth is laced with secrets buried deep in Hithechurch’s past.
I thought my first read by Jen Williams would have been her Winnowing Flame trilogy, but I have conspired against myself and her newest horror/thriller book was my first read. I didn’t remember much at all about the synopsis and hadn’t read any early reviews, so I was a little surprised by the story that unfolded.
In the present day, Sarah Watkins is visiting a seaside town during the offseason with her niece to uncover local lore for a book she’s writing. In 1988, unfolds the story of Charlie and Emily – two girls who’ve made up some silly rituals trying to summon Stitch Face Sue, the ghost of a girl killed by pirates. Finally, in the 1960’s there’s an intelligent boy nicknamed Doc, because he’s surely going to be a doctor when he grows up, just like his father. It’s quite clear how Sarah Watkins and Charlie Watts fit together – they are one in the same. Sarah has returned to find something she buried in an attempt to stop a defamatory book written by Emily from being released to the public. The mystery here is how the girls went from playing together one summer vacation to their current state of enmity and attempted anonymity on Sarah’s part. The part that doesn’t quite make sense until much later in the book is how Doc’s POV fits into all of this.
I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoyed this book because it was actually kind of messed up and definitely went into some dark territory. What I did like was the use of an unreliable narrator and the multiple timelines that slowly piece together a dark puzzle of missing girls and the dark secrets of a seaside town. There was a moment at 61% (I’ve been keeping notes!) where I wanted to chuck the Kindle because I had a sudden and rather frustrating epiphany about what was going on. The remainder of the book was me furiously turning pages to see *how* exactly all the events would unfold.
The characters weren’t exactly likable, though I did feel a bit bad for Sarah as I didn’t think she deserved the punishment she received. None of the major characters were truly innocent either, which served to provide readers with a complicated, morally gray tale filled with disturbed children. This isn’t a new favorite, but I admire Jen William’s writing skill and will definitely be reading the Winnowing Flame trilogy soon as fantasy is generally more to my taste.
I’ve never read this author, but this seems like such a different genre for her!
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Yes, I’m only familiar with her fantasy works, which I haven’t actually read yet 😅
Yeah, I read this one too, and it’s odd because, like you say, you wouldn’t describe it as enjoyable, but it does dig its claws in. The unreliable narrator and different timelines were a bit chaotic at first and it was probably a bit ‘busy’ but it did have me hooked to the end. I think I gave it the same rating.
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I didn’t have high hopes at first, as I really didn’t like the main character much but then I just couldn’t put it down. Call it morbid curiosity I guess!