I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for not reading and reviewing the last book by Cassandra Parkin, Underwater Breathing – I did feature an extract, but felt it might not have been the right book for me at the time it was published. So today I’m delighted to return to the fold, sharing my review of her latest, The Slaughter Man, published by Legend Press on 16th September, available in paperback and for kindle. My thanks to the publishers for the tour invitation and my advance reading e-copy.
I’m an unashamed fan of Cassandra’s writing – you’ll see I’ve previously read and loved both Lily’s House and The Winter’s Child, and you can catch up with my interview with the author here. But my goodness, she’s really excelled herself with this one – dark, emotive, powerful, and simply wonderful…
When her identical twin Laurel dies, seventeen-year-old Willow’s life falls apart. With her parents’ marriage faltering, she finds escape at her uncle Joe’s cottage. But even as they begin to know each other, Willow is plagued with memories of her sister. Then, Lucas arrives in her life – troubled, angry and with a dangerous past.
Joe’s cottage is idyllic, but the forest is filled with secrets. What is Joe hiding from her? What events have brought Lucas to her door? And who is the Slaughter Man who steals through Willow’s sleep?
As the lines between dreams and reality become blurred, Willow’s torment deepens. It seems as if her only escape lies with the Slaughter Man.
As a portrait of grief, this book is quite exceptional. The loss of an identical twin – that other self you constantly see in the mirror – only makes that loss even more inescapable. And this is grief felt so deeply that it has a physical impact – Willow can no longer speak. But this book takes us inside her head, sharing her thoughts and imagined conversations – and sharing her disturbing dreams, and their aftermath. It’s an uncomfortable place to be – and the whole experience is an emotional one, intensely disturbing and unsettling.
But this book is so much more than a wallow in the emotions of a devastated seventeen year old – it also looks at the dynamics of families (making her mother a grief counsellor, struggling with her own loss, was a real masterstroke), the making of new relationships, and the possibility of moving on. Willow leaves home for a while to stay with her uncle Joe – and his relationships, personal and familial, expose another facet of those dynamics. The telephone calls with her mother are wonderfully handled – one party always silent, the connection only the sound of her breathing, with a sharing of random thoughts and a lot of love in return. Her new friend, Luca, is also disturbed (what an inadequate word that is…), but their relationship builds – and perhaps brings the faintest glimmer of hope that there may be some hope for Willow’s future.
The dreams… oh my goodness, the dreams. They’re so vivid – and they have that disturbing quality of half reality, half imagination, drawing on the material available from the real world. I’ll leave the whole character of the Slaughter Man himself to your imagination until you read the book – but the threat and terror is real and palpable.
Something else I really liked about this book was the drawing in of the natural world – the goats, the kitten, the birds, the meadows, the dark woods and the pathways through it. Maybe not a rather pivotal scene in the barn, on the haystacks – but it certainly had a powerful impact.
The writing is quite wonderful – although recounted in the third person, Willow’s internal voice is clear and unequivocal throughout. Almost bizarrely, it isn’t a difficult read, other than its content – the author’s writing has a fluidity and eloquence that enables you to totally immerse yourself in the story, and the whole is perfectly paced. Does it all sound a bit intense and unrelenting? It really isn’t, and there are moments – just here and there – of unexpected and welcome lightness.
Don’t miss this one – another definite addition to my books of the year, and very highly recommended.
‘A dark, eloquently creepy tale. Parkin’s prose quivers with visceral terror’ Carol Lovekin, Author of Snow Sisters & Ghostbird
‘Haunting, complex and beautifully written. A really compelling read’ Emma Burstall, the top 10 bestselling author of the Tremarnock Series
About the author
Cassandra Parkin grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011), won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies.
The Summer We All Ran Away (Legend Press, 2013) was Cassandra’s debut novel and nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars 2014.
Legend Press have also published The Beach Hut (2015), Lily’s House (2016), The Winter’s Child (2017) and Underwater Breathing (2018).