Tuesday, August 18, 2020


THE ASH THE WELL & THE BLUEBELL by Sandra Arnold (Makaro Press, 2019)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Losing her daughter to the Christchurch earthquake sends Lily back to her childhood village in northern England to scatter Charlie's ashes. It's a place of ghosts for Lily after the mysterious drowning of a school friend at the old village well - a tragedy somehow linked to the death of a local woman accused of witchcraft three hundred years earlier. Now Lily's back, she wants to find out what happened at the well and the truth behind the swift departure of her friend Israel.

The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell spans three centuries and three countries, exploring the love and history that makes a community, and the hate and secrets that can destroy it.

THE ASH THE WELL AND THE BLUEBELL is one of those novels that can be categorised as crime but takes the expectations that come with that and tips them out the nearest window. The blurb describes the scenario well.

What that doesn't describe is the emotional roller coaster that the novel takes readers on. The death of Lily's daughter Charlie in the earthquake that rocked Christchurch in 2011 is carefully described and all the more distressing because of that. The ribbon of blood that comes from Charlie as Lily and she are pinned to the ground, connects to the journey that this triggers as Lily returns to her childhood home in England, and to thoughts of childhood experiences. It's these childhood memories that lead, eventually, to recollection of a friend's suspicious death, and mystique of the well where a local woman was drowned many years before, accused of being a witch.

Carefully, steadily told, the world that is described in THE ASH THE WELL AND THE BLUEBELL covers everything from small town English life immediately following the Second World War, back to the time of witch trials, through to the Child Migrant schemes that sent children from England to New Zealand and Australia in the 50's and onwards to the 2011 earthquake.

The well is an interesting focal point for the story, reflected as it is in the sort of slow whirlpool of events that surround Lily. From the death of her daughter, to the remembrance of childhood events, to the connections between old friends, and home. Places and people, childhood and adult responsibilities, life, death and the things that start to make sense the older we get, are all pulled into action that doesn't necessarily speed up as it goes, but continues in it's relentless, consuming spin until everything has been pulled into its wake.

This is a lightly edited version of a review Karen Chisholm posted on her own blog. Karen is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best NovelShe kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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