Devoted father or merciless killer?
His secrets are buried with him.
Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.
Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.
Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?
For this challenge I have chosen The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton, which my mum bought me for Christmas (admittedly after much heavy hinting on my part!) This book has received rave reviews from my fellow bloggers, being included in a fair few of their ‘top books of 2018’ lists, so I was excited to get to it.
I finished this a few days ago but I have only just been able to sit down and consider writing my review, as I am still processing my thoughts about this book. It is so much more than a crime novel; there is so much going on that has left me with so many thoughts and feelings. I can understand why this book has received so many rave reviews, I haven’t read such a multi-layered, complex, thought-provoking and gripping thriller for quite a while.
Where to start, where to start. Okay, let’s go with the basics. This is a dual timeline crime novel that follows the investigation into the disappearance and murder of three children in the 1960’s. On this very basic level, the book works brilliantly. The crime is deeply disturbing, the horrors being revealed slowly, the clues to the investigation snuck in to the prose subtly for the reader to pick up, with plenty of dead ends and red herrings. I truly had half a dozen suspects for the crime throughout the course of the book and was equally convinced each of them was right until a new piece of information sent me spinning off on a different course. Exactly the kind of plotting that crime novel aficionados love. But there is so much more going on.
Next, there is the setting of the book, in the small, isolated town of Sabden in Lancashire, at the foot of Pendle Hill. Sharon presents a community that is insular, wary of outsiders and full of secrets and closely woven relationships that anyone not local will find hard to penetrate. And so it proves for the protagonist of the book, WPC Florence Lovelady – young, female and Southern, she doesn’t fit, isn’t trusted and has to work hard to understand the town and its inhabitants. In addition, the first mention of Pendle Hill brings to mind the witch trials and the suggestion of the supernatural immediately permeates the story, creating an extra layer of mystery and suspicion and fear throughout. Sharon also makes reference early on to the crimes of Hindley and Brady which happened close by just prior to the original crimes in the novel, which brings its own sense of menace, and a certain oppressive atmosphere to the book. It is all very deftly done.
As mentioned, this is a dual timeline novel. We begin in 1999, when Florence returns to Sabden for the funeral of the man who was convicted of the murders back in 1969. However, certain events take place that lead her to begin to review the original investigation, so we are taken back to 1969 and relive that investigation through Florence’s memory of it, when she was a young WPC newly working in an area where she is an outsider. This was also a time when women were rare in the police, and she faces overt sexism and huge obstacles to being involved in the investigation and being taken seriously. Florence is a strong, intelligent, determined woman with instinct and flair for police work, but she has to fight every step of the way, against all the disadvantages of her age, sex and background, to be heard. Given these obstacles, she sometimes has to take unorthodox steps to explore her suspicions and none of this endears her to her colleagues. One also wonders whether she is being sidelined because she is getting too close to the truth. Florence is a brilliant character to lead the story, and I had total empathy for her from the beginning.
The most unusual element in this book, is the supernatural one, and I am guessing that some people may have an issue with this as a device in a crime novel. However, here there is a specific, underlying reason the author has used this and it is because Sharon is, to a degree, using the witchcraft as a metaphor for the oppression of women throughout history. This whole book has a strong message of feminism and the empowerment of women running through it, at least for me. I don’t want this to put anyone off, it is not a book that is anti-men, but it is definitely a book about the strength, resourcefulness and intelligence of women and how men have been afraid of this and tried to suppress it through the ages, the persecution of women as witches being one of the most overt ways. The treatment of Florence in her role as police officer in the 1960’s is another example of this, and as a piece of social commentary, this book is also a riveting read. I don’t know if it was just me, but by the end, I was shaking my girl power pom-poms in the air and shouting, ‘Yay!’
There are so many things to unpack in this book, I really don’t think I have done it justice. This is a book about love, and the things people will do for it; how it can be used to control others and how it can bring out the best, and worst, in all of us. It is a book about family, and the strength of the bond between parent and child. It is a book about community, and how people will band together to support and protect one another. It is a book about ambition, and how far people will push boundaries to achieve their goals, and it is a book about finding the strength within ourselves to do what needs to be done in the most adverse of circumstances. The more I think about it, the more things I find going on, and this book works on every level.
This book is terrifying, gripping, entertaining, intelligent, informative and complicated. I am sure it is also one that will reveal additional secrets on subsequent readings. I am in awe of how much the author has managed to layer into this novel and everyone should definitely read it.
The Craftsman is now available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Sharon (formerly SJ) Bolton grew up in a cotton-mill town in Lancashire and had an eclectic early career which she is now rather embarrassed about. She gave it all up to become a mother and a writer.
Her first novel, Sacrifice, was voted Best New Read by Amazon.uk, whilst her second, Awakening, won the 2010 Mary Higgins Clark award. In 2014, Lost, (UK title, Like This, For Ever) was named RT Magazine’s Best Contemporary Thriller in the US, and in France, Now You See Me won the Plume de Bronze. That same year, Sharon was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library, for her entire body of work.
Connect with Sharon:
Facebook: S J Bolton Crime