A chilling, haunting ghost story that delves into the dark past of the 16th century Essex witch trials.
Sadie Asquith has been fascinated by the dark past of Essex’s witch hunts for as long as she can remember. And for good reason: between 1560 and 1680, over 500 women were tried for witchcraft in the county of Essex. But as she researches a book on the subject, Sadie experiences strange, ghostly visions. She hears noises at night, a sobbing sound that follows her, and black moths appear from nowhere. It’s as if, by digging up the truth about the witch hunts, she has opened an unearthly connection to the women treated so cruelly and killed centuries before.
And something else in the modern world is after her too: Sadie is sure she’s being followed, her flat is burgled and she finds clues that reveal her own past isn’t all that she believed. Can she find peace for the witches of Essex’s history and can she find a safe path for herself?
I was gripped within the first few pages of the prologue of Witch Hunt, where we witness first hand the gruesome execution of an accused witch in the 16-17th century.
Chapter One switches back to the modern day, to a thoroughly drunk Sadie Asquith, embarrassing herself greatly on a drunken night out. It is then revealed that only earlier that day has she buried her mother.
Sadie is a journalist and writer, and also a self-proclaimed Essex girl. She has a complex interest in the witch trials, as seemingly did her now deceased mother. We learn some of her mother’s back story early on in the book, and how she succumbed to illness reasonably early in life. This gives a much deeper insight into the character of Sadie, who narrates the book in the first person throughout, making it a very personal tale.
Before long strange occurrences, phantom emails and text messages, ghostly voices and apparitions manifest, and Sadie begins to worry that the mental illnesses that plagued her mother for so many years have surfaced in her, brought on by grief. Sadie is not reassured by the advice of her police officer friend Joe, and friend and boss Maggie, who also believe she needs to seek help, but she does begin to wonder if the macabre nature of her research is impacting on her own mental state.
The book was very fast paced at the beginning, leaving me reluctant to put it down, but seemed to plateau midway through the story. This may be a harsh judgement on my behalf as it is in this section that we learn the whole research and background of the witch trials, which illustrates just how much knowledge Moore has amassed on the subject. This has thoroughly whetted my appetite to read more on the witch trials of the 16th and 17th century, as Moore gave so many fantastically written insights into true life records.
During the visions that Sadie is shown, Moore describes the period of time beautifully, leaving you able to see, smell and feel the atmosphere and fear that the hunted women were subjected to, and there were some truly haunting scenes – for me it was the train station!
The page-turning pace returned as the book began to reach its conclusion, with Sadie discovering hidden secrets of her past, and the tale concluded (perfectly timed) on All Hallows Eve. The ending was well written and loose ends were tied up, although I did feel the ending was somewhat predictable and I would have liked to have seen more ‘gasp-inducing’ twists to the plot.
I also feel that characters and relationships were only briefly touched upon, leaving the book more of a personal memoir, albeit it a superbly written narrative that I would recommend reading over Halloween!