Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough is a historical Gothic young adult mystery (available July 10, 2012).
When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don’t know is that their aunt’s life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries—before it’s too late for little Mimi.
Long Lankin is Lindsey Barraclough’s debut, a historical suspense novel intended for a young adult audience. That description is a little too simple. As an adult reader, I did not feel the book would solely appeal to younger readers. From clues in the text, I believe it is set a few years after World War II, but events that happened in World War I are also important to the story, even though they happened before the young narrators were born. The novel isn’t exactly a Gothic; that is, it doesn’t tightly fit the dictionary definition; but it definitely feels like one in many ways. To be more succinct: this is one creepy book. In a good way, if you like creepy books!
Barraclough’s descriptive skill sets it all up and keeps the feeling of awful, crawling tension going.
The chimney bricks are set in patterns of squares, diamonds, and even twisted spirals.… The crooked roof, dotted with pincushions of green moss, overhangs the dark little windows. The reflected light from the high white sky is distorted, rippling unevenly in the old glass. A deep, open channel of water, at least ten feet across, encircles the house and its garden like a moat, spanned by a wide flat bridge covered in a layer of earth tufted with grass and dandelions. Down the middle of the bridge, the soil has worn thin over the bare wooden planks. The garden is a wilderness of bent, half-dead trees, strangled by bindweed, that lean over tangled masses of brambles, wild rose bushes, stinging nettles and dry yellow grass.
The book has several point of view characters: Cora, Roger, and Cora’s Aunt Ida. Both Cora and Roger have younger siblings, and for me the potential danger of the story increased wildly as I worried about Mimi and Pete, especially Mimi.
We stood by the bridge, Mimi clinging to my hand. On the other side of the channel two rusted iron gates lay half hidden among the weeds, left where they’d fallen from the gateposts long ago. The water level was dropping, making a quiet gurgling sound as it went, leaving behind white frothy bubbles on the thick dark mud…
…Thick dirty grey roots of ivy were clinging to the crumbling front wall, the leaves brown and crispy, coated with dust. Only a few small green shoots up near the roof showed the plant was still living.
…The massive front door was studded with big iron nails. Threads of spiders’ webs, spotted with the dried up bodies of little flies, fluttered lightly in the cracks.
…Inside the room, somewhere behind me, a woman was singing. I lowered my hands silently, trembling, into my lap. The tune was strange, awkward. ‘Said my lord to my lady, as he mounted his horse: “Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss.” ‘Said my lord to my lady, as he rode away: “Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the hay.” ’ It wasn’t Auntie Ida’s voice.
For me, it was a bonus that there were remnants of World War I throughout the house and church and village; by the time the story takes place, the younger generations are beginning to forget, and memories that are still poignant, painful, and immediate to older characters like Aunt Ida are, to the children, just part of the landscape. When Roger and Cora examine a memorial in the church, Roger notes that he recognizes the local names, and tries to put them together with people he knows; that moment reminded me of how the young narrators are contrasted with the ancient house.
If you like Gothics, or novels that are in conversation with the Gothic, then you will very likely find this book to be a lot of (creepy) fun!
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War I-set Spice Brief is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.
Read all posts by Victoria Janssen for Criminal Element.
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