‘Powerful enough to make your skin crawl’ – The Ravenglass Eye by Tom Fletcher

I’ve always hated the saying ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover.’ Why? Because you can. Look at the front of a Jill Mansell book, with the flowers and the butterflies, the cuddly cartoon drawings, and you’re not going to think it’s a tale of life’s darkest horrors, or a futuristic fantasy featuring flying cars and robots. Pick up a Cormac McCarthy and the stark lettering and lack of imagery on the sleeve will probably give you a clue that what you’re about to read is pretty serious. Take a Dan Brown off the shelf and you know it’s going to be crap, just by looking at his name. It’s simple. Most of the time; you can very easily judge a book by its cover. So when the latest novel from Tom Fletcher fell through my letterbox, I looked upon it with some concern. The cover conjured up too many of the tired old horror clichés that we all know, and that we all hope the freshest voices will avoid. There’s a stone circle, an ominous full moon, slashes across the sky suggesting ancient symbols, something dragged back from the past for revenge. I opened it with a sigh and prepared for a tough read.

Within twenty pages I was hooked. Fletcher is an accomplished stylist. He writes with levels of subtlety and quietude that are rare in the world of horror fiction. There’s something very inviting about the way he keeps you guessing, pulling you into the story without revealing everything or using shock tactics, in the way that many horror films and novels of our day tend to do. Most of all, though, he creates complex and captivating characters. From the main protagonist, all the way through to the impressive supporting cast, Fletcher ensures strong reactions to every person he paints. Whether it’s sympathy for a wrongly accused teenager, facing suspicion mainly because he wears a hoody and listens to heavy metal, or disgust at the local bigot and pervert, who rants about the indecency of modern day Britain, before crouching in the bushes and recording the pub landlady through a window as she undresses, readers cannot help but garner the exact impression of the characters that Fletcher was hoping for.

Most impressive of all is Edie Grace. Clearly a troubled individual, the main protagonist still struggles with the death of her grandparents. Having grown up with them as her main carers, Edie was a witness to their rapid aging, and the difficulties her grandmother had in dealing with life as a widow. Edie, therefore, eschews any such loving relationship in her own life, even admitting at one point that to be in a relationship is just to wait for it to end. But something is missing in her life. This is why we can almost forgive and sympathise when she allows a dark and evil force known only as The Candle into the village. Edie could not have guessed at exactly what chaos she was helping to bring through from a place known as Elsewhere, but there were plenty of clues that it wasn’t exactly a carefree and shiny soul planning to bring a bit more peace and love to the world. What Fletcher manages so expertly is our opinion of his novel’s hero. Everything bad that happens here is a result of her naivety, but with every page that passes we cling more closely to her, praying for her survival. Her inner turmoil has touched us and, like a classic tragic hero, we’re on her side despite her flaws. It is Edie that keeps this novel ticking.

The disappointing thing about The Ravenglass Eye is that, in the final fifty pages or so, it does creep into the territory of those clichés on the cover. There are too many skinless monsters, too many pools of blood on the floor, and too much Hollywood imagery. But Fletcher can be forgiven. Up until the closing stages, he has delivered a work of horror that is also an effective critique of modern day Britain and a very accurate portrayal of rural life. The scenes in the pub where Edie works represent the suspicion, bigotry, and hypocrisy that is rife in Britain today.

Any Cop?: When the horror echoes reality in The Ravenglass Eye, it is powerful enough to make your skin crawl.

 

Fran Slater


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