Book Review: Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield
Katherine Stansfield’s Falling Creatures is a wonderfully evocative historical novel and a reimagining of a real murder that took place on Bodmin Moor, one now firmly entrenched within local folklore.
Cornwall, 1844. On a lonely moorland farm not far from Jamaica Inn, farmhand Shilly finds love in the arms of Charlotte Dymond. But Charlotte has many secrets, possessing powers that cause both good and ill.
When she’s found on the moor with her throat cut, Shilly is determined to find out who is responsible, and so is the stranger calling himself Mr Williams who asks for Shilly’s help.
Mr Williams has secrets too, and Shilly is thrown into the bewildering new world of modern detection.
I was lucky enough to be at the Cardiff launch for this book, having met the author through local events. But even without that early introduction, I feel sure that Falling Creatures would have called to me in a bookshop, thanks to its haunting and atmospheric cover.
Falling Creatures lives up to the cover’s promise with Katherine Stansfield’s poetic blend of supernatural elements, local superstition and folklore, together with the inevitable gossip and rumour that swirl around such a tragic and brutal end to a young woman’s life. It’s a crime that even managed to capture the attention of London newspapers at the time, and Stansfield draws on newspaper reports of the day, as well as the court transcripts and other documents, a rare resource to have available from this period.
What makes the story come alive for me is the description of the setting – the brooding, unforgiving moorland, steeped in mist and mired in hidden dangers for the unfamiliar, almost a character in its own right – together with the characters Stansfield creates to tell the story.
A clear favourite of mine is Shilly, who I hope to hear much more from in future Cornish Mysteries. She’s such an interesting character: sold to the farm she comes to by her own father, Shilly is a young girl cast out into the world to make her way, who finds herself on the edge of Bodmin Moor, isolated from the rest of the community. It’s little wonder when she forms a strong bond with the other girl working there and it’s interesting to see their relationship develop, what Shilly learns as it progresses, where and who to trust.
Her ability to see what most others cannot lends a supernatural dimension to the case while also marking her out as potentially unreliable, with more than a nod to the influence of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, stellar company in which Shilly holds her own.
Mr Williams’ arrival on the scene adds a whole other layer to this story and I found it an intriguing direction to take. It added to the real sense of jeopardy in Falling Creatures and I can’t wait to see how and where this affects the storyline in future books in the series.
Falling Creatures is a compelling reimagining of Charlotte Dymond’s case, and a credible take on an historical crime which left some questions unanswered. It provides fascinating insight into the local superstition and lore of this part of Cornwall, and is a great start to what promises to be an exciting new Cornish Mysteries series peopled with unusual characters and drawing upon local lore and legend.
Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield is published by Allison and Busby, an imprint of Profile Books. It is available as an ebook, in hardback and in paperback from October this year. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where every purchase helps support your local independent bookshop.
Katherine Stansfield is a novelist and poet whose debut novel The Visitor won the Holyer an Gof Fiction Award. She grew up in the wilds of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and lived on the west coast of Wales for many years. For more information on her and her writing, check out her Author Blog or find her on Twitter.