Darker Ends

Written by Alex Nye
Review by Jane Burke

Alex Nye continues his exploration of the chillier end of children’s fiction with this novel set in modern Glencoe. Or is it? This is a skilled time-slip tale of time, life and consciousness swirled up into a heady brew of mystery and danger. ‘Time is a web… Sometimes threads break, and worlds collide.’

A man, Ivan, crashes his car in a ditch and walks to the nearest habitation. Inside the old inn two children, Maggie and her little brother Rory, await the return of their parents from a shopping trip. But it is getting late, a storm is brewing, and the stranger at their door seeking help is not the only stranger in the house. The mists of history begin to blend with the present as Ivan regales the children with the legend of the massacre of Glencoe in 1692: when the children flee, their experiences become strangely entangled with the lives of those fleeing the massacre all those years before.

The historical scenes in this novel are sharply depicted without sentimentality, but the power of the novel lies in its other-worldly atmosphere, of snow, cold and darkness – the ‘velvet darkness’ of a power-cut, a storm that ‘trembles in the rafters’ – and the eerie sense of muddle and mix-up in the minds of the protagonists. Maggie worries that her memories are becoming ‘broken up into tiny pieces like a complicated jigsaw puzzle.’

Little flashes of reality – the blue lights of a police vehicle outside their house, Rory’s need for his inhaler – only add to the sustained air of jeopardy. The affectionate reliance and resourcefulness of brother and sister offer safety despite the spooky plot-lines, and the emotional finale provides an effective resolution, though not the one imagined at the start of the book.  For 10-14 year olds.