Book Review: The Devil’s Beat, Robert Edric

They Say:

“A connoisseur of shadows, Edric is excellent on what is truly ‘devilish’ in human beings.  He specializes in murky uncertainty and disturbing implications”  SUNDAY TIMES

“The world Edric has made in this unsettling novel is both familiar and deeply weird; there’s a genuine sense of menace beneath the hysteria and superstition”  THE TIMES

devil's beat

We Say

“Not enough substance beneath the shadows”  ZOE ENGLISH, BRENT LIBRARIES.

The storyline of this novel is a sort of Suspicions of Mr Whicher meets The Crucible.  Set in 1910, an investigator, Mr Merritt, is sent from London to a rural village in Nottinghamshire to oversee a kind of ‘trial’ set up to investigate a strange happening.  Five young girls aged between nine and fifteen claim to have seen a devil in a clearing in the woods, one of the girls also says the devil visited her bedroom in the night, tried to get into bed with her and then smashed some plates.  All very mysterious and strange.  So a formal investigation is organised to publicly question the girls and get to the bottom of things.My first thought was ‘why?’.  I mean this is 1910 not 1610, surely the girl’s stories would be dismissed as silliness by most and life would continue fine without the expense and inconvenience of a formal investigation.  But I gave the author the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he had done research into a similar and real case in 1910 or perhaps the stories were causing serious unrest in the village.  Several of the characters refer to the stories causing unrest, but then I didn’t get the sense of this from the characters’ words and behaviour, people do seem to think the investigation is a waste of time and no one seems to believe the girls.  There are nasty rumours flying around, but then if that were enough cause for a mini trial we’d have had one every week in the Derbyshire village where I grew up!

Death and the Devil Surprising Two Women (c1500-10) by Daniel Hopker. Did the Devil really jump out and surprise the girls in the wood?  After a while I stopped caring.

Death and the Devil Surprising Two Women (c1500-10) by Daniel Hopker.
Did the Devil really jump out and surprise the girls in the wood? After a while I stopped caring.

So the novel got off to a bad start with me in that I didn’t really buy into the premise of the story.  I was still prepared to be swept along by the (perhaps slightly unbelievable) action…but there wasn’t really any.  Most of the novel was taken up by the ‘trial’.  “I put it to you that you didn’t really see the devil” – “well I did”.  “I think you’re making it up!” – “no I’m not” (or something similar). etc, etc.  Pretty dull, the characters even refer to things just going round in circles, and I as the reader was thinking the same.

Another theme in the book is the tension between the four men overseeing the ‘trial’, as well as Merritt there is a local doctor, a vicar and a magistrate.  Each of them have their own ambitions and concerns about the investigation.  But this tension didn’t really engage me either.  Overall a dull tale with a rather abrupt unsatisfying ending (the kind that leaves you thinking “I struggled through all these pages for that!”).  Not recommended.

You Say…

What do you think?  Disagree?  Have you read this book and found it gripping?  Or read something on a similar theme that you would recommend?  Let us know.

Zoe

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