I originally posted this review on http://www.ingridhall.com on the 6 September but thought a few of my readers might also find this book of great interest…
Robin Herne is a practicing Druid who lives in Suffolk and has a number of books already under his belt. Founder of the Druidic Clan Ogma and the Ipswich Pagan Council Robin Herne is also an accomplished story-teller and poet. His latest volume of short stories, A Dangerous Place, will be published by Moon Books on 27 September 2013.
A Dangerous Place by Robin Herne
‘A Dangerous Place’ is a collection of ten crime stories set in Ipswich, and covering over two thousand years of history. From the Iron-Age to the modern-day; the sinister power of Castle Hill exudes its baleful influence on those who inhabit it leading to gruesome murder after gruesome murder.
I have to say that the only thing I knew about Ipswich, before picking up this book, was that a few years back it gained notoriety as the stomping ground of a serial killer bent on murdering women – so the title ‘A Dangerous Place’ certainly seemed appropriate. However, the focus and theme of this book is the animist and polytheist concept of how a place can have a ‘genius loci’, spirit of place, which can influence its human inhabitants. Robin Herne provides a very good introduction to explain the premise for his collection to those less familiar with this world view.
The setting for each of the ten tales is Castle Hill, Ipswich, and each of tales takes place in distinct and well researched historical periods – in fact Herne ends each story with a comprehensive (and very readable) set of explanatory notes. I was reminded of other weightier tomes such as Edward Rutherford’s ‘London’ which told the story of London from earliest times and, like Herne, had reoccurring families and character-types. Unlike Rutherford though, Herne weaves a pagan and spiritual theme throughout his tales. Not just travelling through social history (there is a welcome inclusion of gay and lesbian victims and protagonists in the cast of characters ); but through the history of beliefs – Druids, Heathens, Puritans, Spiritualists and Modern Pagan all get a turn on the murderous stage of history. Herne demonstrates how paganism once the lifeblood of Britain was suppressed by incoming religions but never quite eradicated.
One of the things that I liked most, was that Herne was not afraid to incorporate real historical characters. One of my favourite stories was set in the seventeenth century and concerned Mary Lakeland, a real life woman accused of murdering her husband through witchcraft. The epistolary style of this tale was very effective. He also incorporated the often neglected role of the ‘Cunning man’ into one of his tales – and I could definitely see Dr Bayldon Winter being the focus of further stories!
My decided preference was for the later tales – I can say that I really began to enjoy these stories from The Golem onwards; ‘Suffer a Witch’, ‘A Doctor Calls’ and ‘The Black Dog’ were my favorite stories (Look out for the humorous parody of Holmes and Watson in The Black Dog). Perhaps it is simply that I am more familiar with those historical periods, or that the sinister reputation of Castle Hill took a few stories to establish itself! Herne admits in the introduction that it is almost impossible to define what characterises a Genius Loci as joyful or sinister…he considers that in some cases it may be simply experience that makes a place hostile to humans…and he certainly wastes no time in laying down enough negative experiences connected with Castle Hill to make the reader believe his theory.
One of the elements that I particularly enjoyed about these tales was that although they each ‘stand alone’ the folk memories and long forgotten religious practices of previous generations that feature in earlier tales, resurface as half remembered folk-memories (the dog is one such reoccurring theme) and are woven into the fabric of each succeeding story, thereby providing the dark thread that binds both the past and the future together.
My only caveat would be that the short story format does not always allow for a great amount of detail to build up, those expecting complex forensic crime stories may be a little disappointed at the speed at which crimes are wrapped up. However, Herne provides a well researched, entertaining collection of murder mysteries in a variety of literary styles and with a historical and spiritual twist. Not only that, he successfully creates a wonderful cast of memorable and sometimes eccentric detectives who employ everything from observation, psycho-analysis to mysticism in their historical crime-fighting. All in all, a good read!