When Victorian city slicker Albie Mirralls receives news that his young cousin has died, he is suitably grieved. After it further transpires that young Lizzie was burned to death in her own home, her husband Albie - under the belief that his wife had been replaced by a fairy changeling- takes it upon himself to travel to the Yorkshire village of Halfoak, solve the crime, and put paid to such ridiculous superstitions once and for all.
Albie exchanges his world of cramped streets and dirty air for wide-open spaces and a summer that shows no signs of ending. The people here are ‘primitive’, steeped in the rituals and folktales passed down through the generations; the village pub even has horseshoes over the door, to prevent access by any supernatural beings. It’s recognisable as an English village, but Alison Littlewood imbues it with an atmosphere that almost makes it another world to her readers as well as the protagonist.
We’re in Albie’s head throughout the book, and however familiar we may be with rural life, Halfoak is an unsettling place populated by a host of strange people, who avoid cliché by good characterisation; even their dialect is handled well, written in such a way as to evoke the Yorkshire accent without making it tiresome to read. In fact, Littlewood gets us so far in, that it becomes increasingly difficult to see how unhealthy his obsession becomes as the pages turn; his wife, first the source of comfort, becomes cause for concern, and we’re taken on a dangerous ride along with Albie as he eventually discovers a terrible truth.
Seasoned veterans of this type of story may know what to expect, but it's journey rather than destination that counts here. Littlewood weaves a plot that’s as complex as any contemporary thriller, made more labyrinthine by the supernatural elements; a tense atmosphere permeates the novel, growing in strength to become more disturbing with each passing chapter. Albie is a flawed and arguably disturbed hero, a man utterly out of his depth in a world he does not understand.
The Hidden People is Alison Littlewood’s first foray into the supernatural, and will hopefully prove to be the solid foundation of a career within the genre. Anyone expecting a gore-fest or a fairy apocalypse will be disappointed, but for those wanting to observe how subtle psychological horror can be, how the deepest fears can be contained in the smallest of actions, and that the gothic novel is still incredibly powerful even in these modern times, this is the book for them.
THE HIDDEN PEOPLE / AUTHOR: ALISON LITTLEWOOD / PUBLISHER: JO FLETCHER BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW