The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross
This is the second book in the Jesperson and Lane series of gently paranormal mysteries set in the 1890s. The stories are narrated by Aphrodite (Di) Lane, a young female detective, who assists Jasper Jesperson in solving mysterious cases and phenomena that inflict the inhabitants of late Victorian Britain. When a previously unknown man, one Charles Manning, drops dead in their house in the early hours of one November morning, the duo are tasked by the deceased’s brother to find out more about the circumstances and causes of his mysterious death, and go to Norfolk, where he was lodging with the vicar and his large family in a small village, Aylmerton. Charles Manning’s close connections are with Bella Bulstrode, the eponymous witch and neighbour, who is a young woman with a reputation for her herbal and medical knowledge, while over in Cromer the sinister Felix Ott seemed to possess an unhealthy influence over the unfortunate Manning. There is another unexplained death to investigate, and a missing baby.
The story trots along pleasantly, and it is an easy and unchallenging read. There are instances of behaviour which seem a little implausible in late Victorian England as well as some solecisms in Lane’s narrative. The tale later shifts into elements of outright fantasy which seem a little bizarre and unexpected and jar with the tenor of the overall story.