Pinborough delivers genuine chills in this effective tale of ghostly revenge. Thirty years ago, in the rural town of Watterrow, England, a beautiful, curly-haired 10-year-old named Melanie Parr suffered a fatal accident. Having used her angelic looks to hide a cruel, sociopathic personality, the girl delighted in tormenting her playmates, whose mothers decided to do something about it. Unfortunately for them, that "something" proved deadly. Even more unfortunate, Melanie's come back for revenge, three decades later, thanks to "The Catcher Man," a benign entity that holds children in a state between life and death. Pinborough populates Watterrow with well-defined, sympathetic characters whose reactions, in the face of the unbelievable, ring remarkably true; the struggle of her reluctant heroine, Alex, is thoughtfully balanced between otherworldly horror and the ravages of terminal cancer. Wisely, Pinborough (Breeding Ground) opts to build suspense subtly, rather than bludgeon readers with horrific imagery or buckets of gore, giving this nicely executed, surprisingly moving ghost story an old-fashioned feel in the best possible sense. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
- Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
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By Sarah Pinborough
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Sarah Pinborough
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Chapter OneThe air hung invisibly heavy, dragging downward from the sky, its weight almost humming with the tension of an approaching breaking point. There was a storm brewing, the kind that hadn't come to this sleepy part of Somerset for years, or so it seemed to Mary as she wheeled the last barrowful of mowed grass to the compost heap, or "compost mountain," as she liked to call it, glad that at sixty she was still able to do these things for herself without a twinge or an ache. She smiled. Well, maybe just one or two nagging aches that set in a little later, but never too painful to dull her warm glow of satisfaction; in a weird way, maybe they even heightened it slightly.
Despite the discomfort caused by sweat that clung to her like a second skin unwilling to be shed, Mary's spirits were high. After getting Paul's party decorations up, Alexandra would be making them both a cool gin and tonic, waiting for her aunt to come in and be amazed at what could be done with a few streamers and balloons if you had that special creative touch, and maybe her smile would light up a little like it used to in the days before Ian left. Twenty-seven was too young to be carrying that much pain around with you like lead on your back, and Mary feared the strainwas beginning to show. Her niece had lost weight over the last few months, and it seemed at times that Alex had become a reserved shadow of her former self, all that beauty and brightness bound up inside, afraid to be released. Maybe Paul coming would do her some good; maybe she'd open up to him.
Pushing the low-hanging leafy branches aside, Mary wheeled the barrow forward into the hidden space that Paul had called "Pooh Corner" when he'd been little-a long time ago now, her bouncing boy was forty today-preparing her shoulders and thighs for the sudden push up the side of the heap of fresh grass to dump her load over the back.
Out of the corner of her eye, in that space where on clear winter mornings the light came pushing through the far side of the trees like one of those crazy laser shows, she could make out the worn shapes of the headstones in the graveyard on the other side of her land. Sometimes the peaceful sight of them would make her stop and think about the nature of time, and how it sped past so quickly, the questions bubbling in her brain. Where had those years gone between when Paul was ten and now, and would he bury her there amongst family and strangers when her race came to its inevitable end?
Yes, sometimes it would make her stop and think. But not this time. This time her eyes froze like the rest of her, confused for a moment, vision fixed on the pile of grass. No, not the grass at all, but what was on top of it, what hadn't been there ten minutes before when she'd emptied the lawnmower last, and what shouldn't, couldn't possibly be there. Her shaking arms released the metal barrow, which banged heavily into her knee as it dropped, and deep in her mind she knew there'd be a nasty black bruise blooming there the next day, but right then, right in that silent moment of stopped time, she couldn't feel a thing as the past raced forward to meet the silent, twisted present.
The small red sandal sat on the bed of sweet-smelling cuttings, polished and shining, untarnished by mud or blades of murdered grass, as if deposited from above, a gift from the angels. Staring at the shoe that had been out of fashion for thirty years, Mary felt her breath catch in her throat. So time was moving, not stopped at all, but pouring out slowly like glue, savoring itself, allowing Mary the possibility of seeing everything, every color in the trees, the leaves and the thousands of different shades in the leather. Who could have put it there? Who would have? No one. Not after all this time. Needing to touch it, needing to feel its reality, its dead flesh next to her skin, she reached slowly forward, her hand shakily stretching out into the tunnel of her vision.
The giggle slashed the silence and Mary spun round, a whimper escaping her. Branches rustled, first to her left, and then moving back behind her, back to the other side of the compost heap, where the long, tired limbs of the trees almost touched the ground of the graveyard, no hedge required to define the boundary. Slowly turning, her feet shuffling over the dead wood, Mary's eyes widened. It can't be. It just can't be.
At the bottom of the crippled tree in front of her, in the gap between branches and the hallowed ground, she could see the lower half of a small girl, dressed in a perfectly pleated green kilt, the upper torso hidden from view.
The scalpel of memory sliced into her brain, sharp and painful. The giggle came again as Mary's eyes dragged themselves down, past the pink skin of young almost-chubby knees, to the high white socks, and then downward, knowing what she was going to see, one foot shoeless, the other strapped up in a perfectly polished red sandal. Standing and staring at this surreal snapshot, something stirred inside Mary, a coiled snake waiting to strike, and if her frozen face could have moved, she would have frowned. The terrible familiarity of the clothes and the shoes itched inside Mary and she could almost taste the child's name in her mouth before she whispered it.
The giggle came again from somewhere out of sight, and Mary moved to take a step backward, to get help, help for or from what she didn't know. The voice that came through the branches lilted childishly.
"I lost my shoe, Mary. Have you got it? Have you got my shoe? I'm cold without it. You've made me cold, Mary." The reproach in the voice was clear, the sentiment jarring with the young giggle.
Shrieking, Mary stumbled over a branch behind her and fell forcefully to the dry ground, the shudder that spread through her bones making her bite down on her tongue, her mouth filling with the taste of metal as she bled.
"I've come back, can't you see?"
The quiet voice barely carried in the heavy air, but Mary flinched as she listened. "I've come back home. The Catcher Man brought me home."
As the giggles got louder and harsher, too harsh for a ten-year-old, a forty-year-old ten-year-old, Mary knew that if she didn't get away right then she never would, she'd go crazy, really never-come-back-down crazy, and squeezing her eyes shut, she dragged herself backward until she was out of the wall of branches and in the fresh air of her garden, pulling herself to her numbed, heavy feet and running like she hadn't in years, letting the scream trapped inside her out, giving it free rein in the humid air, knowing that no matter how hard she yelled, it would never be able to take all of the madness with it.
Excerpted from The Taken by Sarah Pinborough Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Pinborough . Excerpted by permission.
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After reading three of Pinbrough's horror novels I get a sense of her comfort laying in small village or town settings. Her strengths are apparent in the well placed sense of dread and creepiness woven from the beginning, she builds up good characters, places them in an interesting setting, makes the reader involved in their life and then sneaks in something malevolent, waiting to break it all apart. It's almost hard to read but I guess that's how authors get us to care.
Small rural town of Watterrow, England, has been nestled in a peaceful cloud lasting thirty years, but with an approach of a huge storms something dark and cruel has decided to come along and stir trouble for elders and their grown children. Thirty years ago, a small girl, Melanie Parr, has mysteriously disappeared; she simply vanished of the face of Earth in a great storm. Her short life was not filled spreading joy, she was a nasty, cruel child who played mean tricks and turned her friends against each other. She was someone that nobody liked and never really mourned even when no one knew what happened to her; in people's minds she was best forgotten. Forgotten that is until she appeared again in the storm, stirring childhood fears into reality for few who knew her. Now she is back and hungry for revenge, something has happened to her and she will make everyone involved pay for her early demise. Adults are now in the mercy of a child, and a mean one who isn't ruled by logic but hate and anger.
The book was a fast read; I inhaled it in two sittings while my boyfriend caught up on his weekend naps - best time to read! I liked the main character of Alex a lot, I thought she was well crafted even if we didn't get to know her well or too long but she made the book enjoyable for me. Overall it wasn't super scary, but it had plenty of chills and the concept was intriguing even if not extremely strong. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon or two but it's not something that will stand out to me in the long run. I think the book lost a little momentum at the end and couldn't have been stronger but it wasn't bad. The concept was interesting but was a little flaky, I think all the layers of the book added up to make a book but they didn't make it solid, therefore the three stars. I'm still happy I read it though and I will read more of her in the future. So far after reading "The Taken", "Breeding Ground" and "Tower Hill" by Pinborough, I definitely think "Tower Hill" has been her best yet, the other books were more of a platform for her wings to grow so she can spread them in the future because I think she had plenty of ideas left in her.
- Kasia S.
This was a surprising change for a horror novel, and I enjoyed reading it very much. The theme was unique. Somewhere between folklore, legend and a fairytale. It does ask a question about lost children never seen or heard from again. Who takes them, and what have they been through to get there? I thought it would be something similar to 'watcher in the woods', or an evil child coming back for revenge. It morphs into something else, so I won't spoil it for anyone. I will read more from this author.
In Somerset, ten years old years old Melanie Parr looks like an angel, but is actually a cruel devil instead. She enjoys hurting the other kids, which she does constantly without recrimination. The mothers of the other children try to talk to her mother and reason with Melanie, but both fail. Desperate they decide to take matters into their own hands before this preadolescent psychopath kills or maims one of their offspring. --- Three decades have passed since Melanie died in a tragic ¿accident¿. No one has said anything further about what really happened. Now 'The Catcher Man' who provides a holding area between life and death for those who died young has freed Melanie. His liberating her from the after life enables her to return as an avenging angel where she has sexagenarian parents, their adult children, and their grandchildren as victims of her resurrection. --- Amazingly the key to this exhilarating they come back horror thriller is the realistic portrayal of the sixty years old parents who show their age in many ways as they have grandchildren, middle aged children, and suffer diseases like terminal cancer. This ¿older¿ group seems genuine as they struggle with personal issues of aging, the guilt from what happened back then, and now have to accept the unbelievable in order to prevent Melanie from destroying their descendents. THE TAKEN will be considered one of the top ghost tales of the year. --- Harriet Klausner