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The Craftsman


The Craftsman

Sharon Bolton is a self-proclaimed woman of Pendle. As such, she is quite well-versed in the legend of the Pendle Witch Trials. In 1612, the Pendle Forest of Lancashire was the setting for the infamous execution of nine women on the charge of murder by witchcraft. The legend states that female children born in Pendle needed to be baptized twice --- once in the traditional manner in a church, and then in a dark pool at the foot of a hill. Superstition dictated that this pledged these women's souls to another master.

It is this dark tale that Bolton uses as the backstory for her latest thriller, THE CRAFTSMAN, which jumps between a 30-year gap in time from 1969 to 1999. The villain of the piece is Larry Glassbrook, a native of Lancashire and an expert craftsman whose specialty is coffin making.

Glassbrook was arrested and charged with a string of child murders happening on or before 1969. To make matters that much more grisly, all of his victims were buried alive and died an excruciating death as a result. 1999 seems to have brought about a need to reflect on these crimes. Glassbrook is long dead, but similar abductions and murders are once again taking place. Did Detective Florence Lovelady apprehend and help convict the wrong man, or is something else far darker emerging to terrorize the small village yet again?

"[THE CRAFTSMAN] is an expert combination of police procedural and gothic horror. [Bolton] just seems to get better and better with each release, and this latest effort is her crown jewel."

The first two-thirds of the novel takes place in 1969, which I enjoyed far more than the portion set in 1999, because the atmosphere of the late ’60s was like another world. Women were not yet fully respected as police officers, let alone detectives, and Florence faced far more pressure than just the desire to close a tough case. Bolton writes like a house on fire, and the tension she creates builds to an almost unbearable level --- and I loved every minute of it.

In 1969, Florence actually lodged with the Glassbrook family. The fact that she was so close to the killer the police were pursuing ended up being both a blessing and a curse for her. Florence always found Glassbrook to be a bit creepy, but respected his craft. As anyone familiar with his work could attest, no one was getting out of a coffin built by him. It starts when Florence and her partner dig up the body of young Patsy Wood. Not only was she buried alive, she was placed inside a casket on top of another deceased person.

In meetings with her superiors, they all put their heads together to try to figure out what is going on. It is no surprise when one of the police chiefs brings up the ancient lore of witchcraft that has always hung over Pendle. It is shared that witches were said to need body parts to work their magic, and graves allegedly had always been plundered to that effect. Supporting this theory is the discovery of something probably creepier than Patsy’s suffocated corpse. Buried along with her is a small clay figure modeled to look exactly like her. This is no talisman of good luck but an effigy or voodoo doll placed there for some darker purpose. Witchcraft is again at the forefront of evildoings in Pendle, as evidenced by the human tooth found within the clay figure that has been identified as coming from Patsy's head.

As part of her investigation, Florence befriends a local gravedigger named Dwane, a midget who prides himself on his job and can easily identify a grave that has been disturbed. Beyond this, Florence decides that she needs to study up on as much witchcraft and dark magic legend as possible. She begins in the local library and is fortunate to be guided by one of the librarians, Daphne. Not only does Daphne know exactly what titles Florence will need, she offers her own help as she is currently a self-proclaimed witch of a local coven.

When things begin to go sideways for Florence as her own department starts to look at her as a possible person of interest, she opts to move in temporarily with Daphne and her roommate/lover, Avril. Living with two witches does not bother Florence a bit --- as long as she is left alone to wrap up this case. As she gets closer to the killer, she finds herself a near victim when she is abducted and buried in a freshly dug grave. She gets loose with her hand, breaking through the soft soil in a moment that calls to mind the famous last scene of the classic film Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

Florence gets her man, but as detailed earlier, she is drawn back into the case in 1999 when new crimes reopen her entire investigation. She is joined by her son, Ben, as she begins to retrace the steps in the original case to help close the door --- or coffin --- once and for all on these murders. Perhaps the town of Pendle is just cursed, or maybe everyone is simply under the control of the shadowy group known as the Craftsmen, who may have been behind everything that is happening with this case.

I've been with Sharon Bolton from the start, ever since she wrote under the pen name “S.J. Bolton.” THE CRAFTSMAN is a terrific novel from start to finish, and is an expert combination of police procedural and gothic horror. She just seems to get better and better with each release, and this latest effort is her crown jewel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 2, 2018

The Craftsman
by Sharon Bolton

  • Publication Date: October 16, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250300037
  • ISBN-13: 9781250300034