Hodburn Wood’s lead character is Hillary Belsingham, the owner of an estate in northeast England, who is returning in 1798 from self-imposed exile in Constantinople. The locals live under a shadow: over a number of years young children have disappeared around Hodburn Wood. Hillary is a womaniser who initially has little interest in the fate of the estate and the locals, but he becomes drawn into investigating the secrets of the wood after the young sister of one of his employees becomes the latest victim. Another man who becomes involved in the mystery is Hillary’s illegitimate half-brother, Martin. Martin’s life has been very different from Hilary’s privileged upbringing but Hillary discovers truths about himself through Martin.
I found this an engaging story, told in a fast-moving, effective writing style, and was soon gripped and keen to find out the truth about Hodburn Wood. The period details were well-handled, although the use of dialect by the locals, whilst no doubt accurate, might be a little off-putting for some non-Geordie readers. However, there is lots of action, drama and dark tragedy, and some excellent villains. The pace of the story, particularly the later part of the book, means we get relatively short glimpses into the backstories of Hillary and Martin. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more interaction between the two men and maybe more about Hilary’s exile.
The presentation of the book is professional and it’s good to have a setting in a region of England rather neglected by historical novelists. I would certainly be happy to read another novel by this author.