The Whitby Witches | Chapter 6

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The hundred and ninety-nine steps trailed into darkness below as the fog swirled about her ankles and concealed the streets of Whitby. She might have been standing on the roof of the world, for all she could see. A shudder ran down her spine and she glanced back nervously. 

Aufwader’s Thought’s: This chapter’s title made me snort with laughter. ‘Cream Cakes and Death’! What a perfect opener, though, as our Brenda and Effie mystery gets underway.

There are echoes of Piccadilly and Oswald in Morgan’s lair in The Dark Portal here. At first, things seem all right, if a little suspicious. Miss Boston’s instincts are telling her loudly that there is something shifty about the new and intriguing Mrs Cooper, but as she cannot quite place what it is even when she finds herself in Rowena’s living room, she is frustrated in her investigations.

I love that scene. I love Mrs Cooper’s alarmingly immaculate house – I can practically feel the deep pile carpets and smell the overpowering bouquets she no doubt displays in ugly vases at the perfect height for knocking over. My imagination is offended by the thought of all that nineties decor in a confined space, and Mrs Cooper herself is even more offensive. I love Miss Boston sitting uncomfortably on an overly plush and vaguely hideous sofa, eyes alight for treachery, cup of lukewarm tea in hand. I love Mrs Banbury-Scott, a sit-com caricature, and the rest of the Ladies’ Circle either enduring through gritted teeth or lost in their own world.

Finally, I love the payoff in the second half of this chapter. It’s proper murder mystery stuff; the villain is revealed at last, but, oh no! The only one who guessed the truth has been brutally silenced on a dark and misty night! The plot thickens, dear Readers, but Miss Boston, Whitby Witch, is on the case.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Not just nineties decor, but nineties old-lady decor. I remember my grandparent’s place back in the nineties, and it was all doilies, old dusty sitting rooms that were never used, and an out-of-tune upright piano.

I just like the juggle of tone here. So we’ve got a whole bunch of tragic stuff going on with the aufwaders, all of which gets put on hold for a chapter as we have one of the classic British TV tropes – the keeping up appearances cup-of-tea. Opinionated spinsters that drink cups of tea are just awesome as characters. (It’s not really a great surprise that Alice Boston is modeled after Margaret Rutherford who played Miss Marple.) But I’m struggling to think if there have been any popular stories in recent memories that featured these kinds of characters.

Has the old English tea-drinking lady disappeared from our world of stories?

Anyway, we don’t get to have too much time to enjoy the comedy, because everything has to advance the plot in a Jarvis book. So we’re straight on to the finale of the chapter, the kind of sequence that also has immediate echoes of The Hound of the Baskervilles. In other words, another wholly British story phenomenon, re-packaged brilliantly. (I was going to say re-packaged for the modern day, but those glorious old days where you didn’t have a mobile phone or the internet and you had to physically go and see people do make this original Whitby trilogy somewhat of a nostalgia piece for me.)

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7 thoughts on “The Whitby Witches | Chapter 6

  1. If you ever find yourself faced with someone you suspect of being a murderer and they inquire as to whether you’ve gone to the police yet, then for the love of God say yes. It might very well save your life. It’s a shame Prudence had to learn that the hard way because she was one formidable woman. Leaving the sanctuary of her own home to confront the smirking villainess all by herself? Damn! Even though this fateful decision gave Roslyn Crosier the chance to silence her accuser before she could be unmasked, there’s no denying that this old lady was as hard as nails!

    The book’s cover becomes much more chilling once you’ve reached the nightmarish, mist-shrouded climax of Chapter Six. Up until now, you thought it was simply portraying the demon hound. Then you lower your eyes, notice the flight of grey steps beneath its paws and understand just what it is you’re seeing. The last few seconds of Prudence’s life just before the hell-beast pounces on her. Now THAT is horrifying!

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    • ‘If you ever find yourself faced with someone you suspect of being a murderer and they inquire as to whether you’ve gone to the police yet, then for the love of God say yes. It might very well save your life.’

      True, but in these sort of stories, the police are either 1) clueless and 2) useless against the titular evil, even when when the cops are proactive. I’m pretty sure Rowena/Roslyn or any Coven member could easily take on a whole squad of plods, let alone whatever local policeman Whitby has.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right there. I’m reminded of the ending of The Monster Squad when the police try to arrest Dracula and it goes about as well as you might expect considering that, well, it’s Count Dracula…

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  2. The first book is indeed a roll-call of British genre fiction, and looking back that’s whats odd about it – its essentially two different stories rolled into one. You have Boston in whats basically a murder mystery (the original British genre (not its Italian cousin the giallo*, even if Jarvis’ work would be so in line with them, or its ridiculous American child, the slasher) – old ladies nosing around, characters killed off one by one, and of course, a big evil hound in the manner of a Sherlock Holmes investigation. Then you have Ben in the usual sort of children’s fantasy story, with him getting involved with a race of what are basically a new form of fair folk and their own petty squabbles and rituals.

    It’s easy to see why some people have kinda reacted coldly to this one and not bothered with the rest of the trilogy, it’s a pretty unique mix that I suspect some readers wouldn’t have time for.

    *One thing that makes this edge closer to the world of the giallo is that it has a supernatural twist – a good few giallo often had elements of spirits and ‘the Sight’ ie Phenomena with its protagonist who can talk to insects. Coupled with the very eerie aesthetic sense of Jarvis’ art…

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    • I only noticed that on reread, but you’re right. This book is really two separate plots skilfully woven together, but when you’re reading for the first time it can be difficult to see how that could work or where they might effectively collide. They do, though, we just have to hang in there!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Truer words have never been spoken. If someone spotted this book in your hands and curiously asked what the story was about, chances are they’d think you were talking about a dream you once had while laid up in bed with the fever. It’s the sort of story which leads you to wonder how the author ever came up with it. A story like no other.

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  3. I think they work because Robin has a great sense of pacing. Regardless of the length of his books, he has a pretty good sense of how to make each scene progress the story and how frequently you need to drop a new piece of information. (And when he does drop a piece of information, it’ll often be slightly incomplete and make us speculate about what’s going to happen and want to keep reading.)

    The best description I ever heard for this sort of story-telling was a video I saw where Stephen King said that his favourite sort of stories were ‘propulsive and assaultive’.

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