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The Resurrectionists by Kim Wilkins
(Victor Gollancz, 6.99, 503 pages, paperback; first published 2000, this edition 31 May 2001.)

Isn't it wonderful when you're reading a book by an author new to you, and you suddenly realise it is good, and the author is cover scangood, and you've found a new writer in your favourite field? It is particularly exciting for lovers of that most sub of genres -- supernatural horror fiction -- who not only have to put up with gentle derision (and that's from their friends who are willing to be kind), but who also suffer from far too many poorly written, ridiculous stories.

So, it was with a great deal of pleasure that I realised, only a few pages into The Resurrectionist, that Kim Wilkins' horror books are definitely worth reading. The Resurrectionist is absorbing and intriguing, well paced, there is good build-up of tension, a couple of cliff-hangers, uncertainty over whether people are going to be good or evil, and a nice, spooky evil at the heart of it all.

Australian Maisie, who is agonising about her future life and career, determines to gain a breathing space by visiting her never-met grandmother in England. Naturally, grannie has to live in a cottage on the edge of a village in the middle of nowhere, and when the old lady dies before Maisie gets there, the young woman has to stay in the isolated spot all on her own. But, this is not some cuddly, loving little old lady in a cute thatched cottage we're talking about here. Not only is Maisie's mother horrified at the very idea of Maisie meeting her grandmother, but as Maisie soon finds out, the villagers in remote Solgreve in Yorkshire actively hated the old lady.

Grandmother's notes on witchcraft, the old diary in the cottage, and Maisie's own terrifying experiences prove to her that there is a frightening mystery in Solgreve. And with the locals' open hostility, it becomes touch and go whether she will be able to escape the evil, even if she dies.

There is a comfortable feel of the traditional ghost/horror story about The Resurrectionists. It has all the right trappings: its English village, an ancient horror haunting the present, old evil waiting in a timeless setting. At the same time, Wilkins successfully blends some thoroughly modern people and their attitudes into the mix. Maisie's acceptance of her grandmother's paganism and of her own growing psychic power is pragmatic. And the first time someone -- or something -- tries to break into the cottage, instead of screaming, trapping herself in the bathroom or fainting, Maisie does the sensible thing and phones the police.

Like all the best horror stories, there is a hint at the beginning of the type of menace which our heroes will face, but tension is maintained throughout. Also to be praised is the way Wilkins uses an old trope -- the story held within an old diary -- by making this tale within a tale fully engrossing in its own right.

There are one or two very minor flaws. A couple of the characters felt slightly unrealistic, particularly a laid-back man (who just happens to be part Gypsy, of course), who is so happy-go-lucky to be unbelievable. The boyfriend left deserted back in Australia is also a bit too unnaturally perfect.

Wilkins is more successful with her young women characters. Maisie is well-rounded and her personality fills out as the story goes on. Her behaviour is realistic, and even her angst-ridden motivation -- to seek out more from life than her privileged, comfortable existence has previously shown her -- is made convincing. The dialogue, particularly between Maisie and her friend Cathy, reads naturally. I also liked the moral ambivalence of some characters. Grannie especially, who we only really know through Maisie's own mother's reminiscences, still has one or two surprises up her sleeve.

The only other point I noticed -- disliked is too strong a word -- is common to many horror stories. Evil seems to be amazingly easy to defeat once the heroes have won through the ranks of the minions to a final confrontation. I sometimes wonder if there is meant to be a profound meaning behind this, perhaps as a metaphor for life ... if you confront your deepest fears, overcome obstacles and puzzle out the truth from lies, you can win the sort of life you want? However, it seems more likely that Wilkins simply ran out of steam at the end. Having created a good, imaginative situation, and sustained interest and tension throughout, it is possible that she just couldn't think of any more ways for evil to fight back at the end. This minor point aside, the ending is an exciting, satisfying conclusion to a good read.

Review by Meredith.

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© Meredith 22 December 2001