The Coffin Path

Written by Katherine Clements
Review by Carol McGrath

The Coffin Path is a gothic historical novel, reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier and as good as Sarah Waters. It is set in Northern England’s moorlands during the late 17th century, 20 years after the English Civil War. Scarcross Hall, situated by the Old Coffin Road from village to moor-top, is cursed. Mercy Booth, the novel’s heroine, loves her home. With her aging father obsessively distressed about the loss of three ancient coins, keeping secrets and losing grip on reality, she tries to preserve her inheritance. As ‘the mistress’ she accepts help with her sheep from an aloof stranger, Ellis Ferreby.

Their stories entwine. Many people believe in witchcraft and the parish church is ‘a wasp’s nest of rumour and gossip.’ As strange events occur around Scarcross Hall, they turn against Mercy. She becomes isolated and threatened, without help on her farm apart from Ellis, with whom she has an uneasy relationship. Survival becomes untenable as winter sets in, her father and the boy, Sam, oddly possessed and the Hall more dangerous.

The author’s research is impeccable, her sense of place hauntingly atmospheric. The plot is affected by the recent Civil War, but although pinned down in time it possesses a sense of timelessness, reflecting man’s isolation, his struggle with nature and the unknown. The ominous presence of standing stones, the austerity of the landscape, the harsh weather and the inhabitants who live their lives in a place that feels its otherness, cut off from a wider world, makes this story gripping and page-turning.

Above all, the characterisation is superb, including the supporting characters. Mercy, no innocent, is determined. Her father’s secret affects her future. The best secret of all is held by Ellis Ferreby, the stranger who refuses to leave.

This is a beautifully written historical thriller, highly recommended.