Brodmaw Bay (2011) by F.G. Cottam
I had been looking forward to the release of Brodmaw Bay for a very long time - I added the title to my Goodreads shelves in March, and have been anxiously awaiting it ever since. My expectations were high, and I have to admit that when I saw the cover design, I was a little disappointed; it lacks the beautiful artwork and lettering that decorated the author's previous novels, and this led me to worry that it would be less subtle, and more of a gory horror story than the chilling, slow-burning and tense paranormal tales I have come to know and love. When the book arrived, I dropped everything to read it and raced through it in a matter of days, and I'm pleased to report that it was anything but a letdown.
James and Lillian Greer, and their children Jack and Olivia, appear at first glance to be the family that has it all. Two successful, wealthy and happily married parents with two good-looking, intelligent and confident children, they live an ostensibly perfect life in a beautiful London townhouse. But their idyllic life isn't what it seems, and there are cracks beneath the surface. At the beginning of the story, James is visiting his son in hospital - Jack has been brutally beaten by a gang of boys on the bus home from school, and this event proves to be the catalyst that begins to tear the family apart and leads to James becoming convinced their tight-knit bonds can only be salvaged through an escape from London. While in the hospital, James picks up an illustrated children's book called Brodmaw Bay, filled with beautiful paintings of the titular seaside village which he is convinced are the work of his artist wife. Lily, however, has no memory of visiting the bay or creating the illustrations. This is followed by a series of other odd incidents which seem to push the Greer family more and more towards investigating Brodmaw Bay, until they start to believe a move there is both fated and inevitable...
At first, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to think of James, who comes out with opinions that, at times, seem straight out of the pages of the Daily Mail after Jack is beaten up. But this is tempered by sections written from the other characters' points of view and it soon becomes apparent that the point is that the characters are flawed; this is precisely how they come to be 'lured' to Brodmaw. James, for all his liberal pretensions, has a knee-jerk, reactionary response to his son's attack; but he is a loving and devoted family man, and while Lily is more reasonable and perhaps more optimistic in her overall outlook, she's hiding a potentially destructive secret from her husband and children, and has her own reasons for wanting to flee London. The characters are a good balance - they're flawed enough that you can understand how they're drawn to the bay, but essentially sympathetic enough that you're on their side even though they might have made some serious mistakes. The village itself is a fascinating place which will have you eagerly turning the pages to learn more - the details, from the desecrated church to the young, empty-eyed ghost to the eccentric locals, are spooky, convincing and totally bewitching.
My only real complaint about this story is that I wanted MORE! More about the village and its strange traditions, more about the residents of Brodmaw and their undoubtedly fascinating histories, more about the nature and origins of the Singers and the Harbingers, and especially more about the Penmarricks. I wished there could've been another couple of hundred pages about the Greers' life in the bay before things started to get really weird. In fact, for me personally, the book could have been twice its length, and I would still have lapped it up. However, I know this would probably have been offputting for a lot of readers, especially those new to the author, so I can understand why the book doesn't go over the top with its detail. Arguably, it's better this way; your imagination can fill in the gaps.
While it hasn't displaced Dark Echo as my personal favourite of the author's work (but I don't think anything ever will because, as I've said before, that book holds a very special place in my heart), Brodmaw Bay is even better than last year's The Waiting Room and deserves to draw in a whole new audience. It has shades of truly classic ghost stories, such as those by M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe, and I would also enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who loves the classic horror film The Wicker Man. It's a perfect winter read, released just in time for those dark, foggy evenings; I probably read the book a bit too quickly, due to my excitement over it finally being released, so my advice to other readers is to savour every page!