Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough
Creepy, spooky and unusual in that it draws directly on old English folk tales, I enjoyed this one far more than I thought I would, duvet-cowering-milksop that I am when it comes to ghosties and ghoulies.
After trouble at home in London, Cora and her little sister Mimi are sent to live with their reclusive great-aunt in a small village in the country. As soon as they get there though, they realise that not only are they not welcome, but the village and their great-aunt in particular hide dark secrets and a world of old hurts. Something dark and evil has stalked the village for centries and now it’s eyes are fixed firmly on little Mimi…
This reminded me a great deal of Jon Mayhew’s Demon Collector (reviewed here), not because of the demons per se but because Barraclough has also drawn heavily on old English folklore to start off her story and underpin certain characters. I loved little references to folklore such as the graveyard rowan tree to ward off and keep in evil spirits and the shoes tangled in it it’s branches, or the lychgate and the use of water as a barrier to otherworldy beasties. I used to study History so I absolutely love signs that a writer has done some homework before writing a story, particularly when said homework is based on things not so many people take such an interest in anymore like folklore (at least not in a lot of the YA books I’ve read recently anyway).
The story itself is set in the past, I’m guessing round about the 1950’s. It’s a nice change and certainly gives it all a bit of an atmosphere. I don’t know about you, but when I think of the 1950’s I think of a certain innocence, which clashes horribly with this Long Lankin character creeping and hovering about the village – the backdrop of the 1950’s only serves to make Long Lankin even more ghastly a character. Picture it: the children are busy helping their mum put clothes through the wringer for the baby or running down to the corner shop on an errand with a penny, brown sandals flying and ice cream at the ready. Then there’s this horror, lurking in the shadows, just waiting for the unwary smallest child to step too close to the graveyard and to dispel the peace.
If you’ve had a chance to read any of my other reviews you might know that what usually draws me to a story are the characters. Of course I love a good plot as well, but characters are what really sell a story to me and oddly enough the two main characters (and narrators) Roger and Cora are not the characters that draw me in. The character that does this is Ida, Cora and Mimi’s great aunt. She’s such an oddball, the heir to a fortune yet living in a dilapidated old house in the middle of nowhere, windows shut and locked up tight, ostracized by the rest of the village and reluctant to have anything to do with her two nieces. The msytery about her is palpable and ultimately the book is about her as much as it is about Cora, Mimi and Long Lankin. Long Lankin himself is another favourite, not so much because he plays such a large part in the story but because he’s so malicious, so thoroughly, undoubtedly evil that his sense of menace just sinks into every page. Like the village you can’t get away from him even when he’s not physically there, which I think makes him far more of a baddie than any evil stepmother/wizard in other stories. A baddy whose evil is felt rather than shown – now that’s a baddy to truly be frightened of.
That’s what defines Long Lankin for me really. It’s a horror story that reads more creepy than horror. You don’t read it gasping aloud at Long Lankin’s depravity, you read it with a creeping sense of dread, with an unueasy feeling, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s not the sort of thing I’d normally pick up but it was a fantastic, gripping read and Barraclough is certainly an author I will be looking up again.
Find Long Lankin here.