The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton
Opening sentence: “On the hottest day of the year, Larry Glassbrook has come home to his native Lancashire for the last time, and the townsfolk have turned out to say goodbye.”
Mix a good old-fashioned murder mystery with elements of witchcraft and yes, I’m going to be interested. I heard very good things about The Craftsman over on Twitter, so when I spotted it in the library, I snapped it up.
It starts with a very interesting note from the author, explaining that she has always wanted to write a book that explores the legend and legacy of the real life 1612 witch trials that took place in her hometown, Pendle in Lancashire. She also notes that the north of England has a high number of infamous killers attributed to it (e.g. Myra Hindley, Harold Shipman) and this fueled her imagination too. So, a very enticing scene has been set before I even read the first sentence.
The story is told in a dual timeline – in 1969 and 1999 – by (the unusually named) Florence Lovelady. When she is cutting her teeth on the police force in 1969, three teenagers go missing leaving the local community on edge and tensions running high. If she can crack the case, it will make her career. However, things are not easy for Lovelady, personally or professionally. There is a local coven of witches and suspicion is cast on them; they are outsiders as they don’t fit in with ‘normal’ conventions. Lovelady talks to these women for the case, but also finds herself drawn to witchcraft.
I liked how Bolton cleverly drew parallels between the persecution of women as witches and the misogyny that Florence had to face – daily – being the only woman on the police force in 1969. Although the most forward thinking police officer working the case, she has to fight to get her voice heard. In a tribute to her determination, by 1999, Florence has risen up the ranks to Police Assistant Commissioner. By then she is also a witch. She returns to Pendle, along with her 15-year-old son, for an unusual reason – to attend the funeral of the man she convicted of killing the three teenagers in 1969… The thing is, new evidence comes to light and Florence begins to question if the right person was arrested back in 1969.
Along with the tantalising plot, I loved how The Craftsman champions feminism; Florence is a gutsy, determined, intelligent woman, she has excelled in her career and developed a love of witchcraft. She will not stand for persecution in any element of her life. Add in the fact that The Craftsman uses real historical elements and throws you an eyebrow raising twist at the end and, trust me, you have a cracking read on your hands. The good news is it’s the first of a trilogy, Bolton has said that her next book, The Cunning Wife, explores Florence’s witchcraft a little more, which is an exciting thought, as I would have loved to read more about that here. Looking forward to meeting Florence again!