I chose to read A Place to Lie by Rebecca Griffiths as it is set in The Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire where I spent my formative years. What I didn’t expect was quite such an eerie and dark tale that was frankly unsettling.
The story is set in two time periods, the past which is 1990 and the present day. In the present Jo is coming to terms with the death of her estranged sister, Caroline. It isn’t quite clear why the two were estranged but the loss Jo feels is combined with a measure of regret that the two who shared a close childhood no longer were part of each other’s lives.
In 1990 the two sisters are sent to stay with their Great Aunt Dora in Witchwood, a village in the Forest of Dean. I’m going to come right out and say it – the depiction of this area didn’t match the area as I know it with the style of houses being far more at home in the Cotswolds which although in Gloucestershire is a place of an entirely different nature altogether.! To be blunt a far more gentrified nature. Even the description of the forest itself didn’t quite reflect the sense of darkness from the many evergreen trees above and the thick bracken below. Rather this was a fairy-tale description of a forest with trees to climb and play happily beneath with the sun filtering through the leaves. The author has blended the names of the towns and villages in the area to come up with ‘fictional’ settings but again because my mind was trying to match with reality this is an example where a specific disconnect in a book can interrupt reading enjoyment for me. Of course I know full well would not bother those who don’t know the area intimately at all but perhaps explains to the readers of this review as to why I was unable to fully embrace this story.
The characters are all suitably grim as fits the fairy-tale setting Rebecca Griffiths has conjured up. The aunt, the neighbours and the shopkeeper are a toned down variety of the worst kinds of adults and the two girls, and the one other child they mix with in the area, are both simultaneously left to their own devices and watched over. The adults themselves have their own version of a witch hunt going on and the girls are for the most part an inconvenience.
In the present Jo returns to the cottage in the woods in Witchwood to search for clues to the mystery in the past and the clues to what happened to her sister. In a way this present section mirrors the trials of the past with Jo unsure who she can trust to really tell her the truth. Reading both sections alongside each other the consequences of the past are bought into relief but in doing so some of the mist slowly clears allowing us, the reader, and eventually Jo to see the truth.
There really was a lot to enjoy in this book with the mysteries, the darkness and the echoes of the scary stories that linger at the edge of our consciousness long after we have left childhood behind. Sadly the disconnect I personally felt meant it fell a little short of expectations for me.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publisher Little, Brown Book Group UK who allowed me to read the unsettling tale that is A Place to Lie. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.