Written by Michelle Paver
Review by Ann Northfield

This novel lives up to its billing as a haunting Gothic masterpiece. It begins with an article asking questions about a tragedy in 1913. Edmund Stearne suddenly went mad, stabbing the first person he met with an ice-pick and a geological hammer sharpened into a chisel. Why? Was there a cover-up?

Stearne is now famous (like Richard Dadd) for creating powerful and strange paintings from his asylum for the criminally insane, which has created media interest in his actions and the nature of his crimes. His strange, isolated hermit daughter Maud may have the answers, but she isn’t telling. The rest of the novel answers the key questions: what caused this insanity and who is really responsible for the crime? Was he crazy? Or possessed? The reader slowly learns the unsettling, disturbing truth through the eyes of Maud, and we follow her enlightenment as she discovers and reads her father’s diary.

Maud’s experiences as a child with her mother’s ‘groanings’ are later interspersed with a diary of a witch/mystic, which is all connected to a medieval Doom painting. The multiple layers of the plot interweave and create a compelling, atmospheric, suspenseful and well-written novel with characters and ideas which will stay with the reader long after the book is closed. This was one of the best novels I have read for a while, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Add it to the ‘to be read’ pile immediately; you won’t regret it.