Having thoroughly ‘devoured’ The Midwives (which is certainly an intentional pun) I feel compelled to write about just how damn great it is. Ahem, so I will.
This novel of folklore, macabre practices, a killer on the loose looking for revenge, a writer with a troubled past, supernatural terror, body possession… OK that’s enough for starters. This story has so many horrific parts to it that it may seem that Duncan Ralston tried to throw everything into the mix to see what sticks.
But it doesn’t come across like that at all. This novel is such a well written piece with believable characters, a fully fleshed out supernatural world with just enough information to keep you hooked and keep you guessing, and a great and fast-paced narrative that never lulls in its pursuit of the reader’s soul.
Martin Savage is a writer who shot to fame with his true crime book about a murderer of pregnant women. This killer, James Barclay, is serving his time for these horrific crimes. But, wouldn’t you know it, he escapes. And who does he come looking for? That’s right, the guy who he trusted to give his side of the grisly story to, only for this writer dude to manipulate his words in order to sell more books.
Yeah, Barclay’s pretty angry about this.
But let’s back up. Before all of this we’re treated to a gripping prologue in which a young mother with her minutes-old baby is fleeing from some hideous, evil old crones. She’s pursued by these midwives who delivered her son, claiming she must give her baby up to them. She’s obviously very reluctant to do this, but that’s what happens in this sinister little town. Its certainly not the kind of place with a flourishing tourist trade. Even in the short prologue you get the idea that this strange place doesn’t like outsiders too much. The midwives take the child, and murder the mother.
Anyway, where were we?
Martin hears of the killer’s escape and is advised to get out of town. Sheila, a psychiatrist who also knew Barclay professionally, and Martin intimately, is also on the killer’s hit list. The pair escape together and head for the remote island where Martin grew up and quickly left when he had the chance; Barrows Bay. Martin’s pretty sure no one else knows about this place. He hopes so anyway.
This town is run by the Midwives. At first they seem like just a group of cantankerous old crones. But after Martin and Shelia arrive, the pair learn more about the secrets this place is hiding. They’ve already killed at least one baby, remember?
I don’t want to say too much more about the plot. But Barrows Bay is portrayed as a fascinating yet creepy as hell place. The origins of it and its first settlers are presented, as well as the curse on the place, and the ritualistic cannibal feasting that goes on. Oh yeah, there’s that, too.
But what was great is that none of this was just info-dumped in there. Martin has vivid memories of his childhood but also lots of gaps. As the story unfolds he finds out more than he bargained for, and so does the reader.
There are many stories where people are stranded in a remote location and eventually try with everything they have to escape. Most times you are deriding the characters for their stupidity or bemoaning plot holes that just wouldn’t happen.
But here, Martin and Sheila’s motivations for being there are 100% believable. There’s a killer on the loose, isn’t there? When they realise that not all is what it seems they try their very best to leave, but the supernatural elements of Barrows Bay prevent them, and do it pretty brutally, all told.
I have to admit that I didn’t warm to Martin initially. He’s a little full of himself, derides his readers for being idiots and appears a little privileged with his fame. But after learning of his upbringing, all is forgiven. The chemistry between him and Sheila is great and realistic. There’s tension there, a constant rock between them.
This is pretty close to perfection for a horror novel. The elements are scary, the plot always leaves you wanting to find out what happens next, and the characters enhance it all, especially the bad guys. It’s also a perfect length meaning no scenes seem too short or drag on. It’s all just great stuff.
So dare you take a trip to Barrows Bay? I think you definitely should.
Categories: book review