Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that I’m a big fan of novels which take a historical, unsolved crime and put a fictional tale around it – books such as Alias Grace, The Unseeing and Burial Rites to name some of my favourites. So, I was understandably thrilled when I received a copy of Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield, which looks at the murder of Charlotte Dymond in Cornwall in 1844. Whilst the man accused of her murder was hanged at the time, many consider the trial and evidence to have been unsatisfactory, and in Falling Creatures, Stansfield seeks to reassess the case.
Falling Creatures is narrated by Shilly, a farmhand who works on Penhale Farm with Charlotte. Shilly is infatuated with Charlotte – as are many men in the vicinity – and is distraught when Charlotte goes missing, and is later found on the moor with her throat cut. Matthew, another of the farmhands, is quickly arrested, but Shilly doesn’t believe that he is responsible.
Following the trial, Shilly is approached by Mr Williams, who also wants to help Matthew, albeit for reasons that Shilly isn’t initially aware of, and the two of them seek further evidence to clear Matthew’s name.
Falling Creatures is a compelling tale, and one that I wanted to get to the bottom of in terms of identifying the culprit, although I have to admit that I didn’t feel all that much connection with the characters. Initially, Shilly was someone who the reader doesn’t really know – very little information is given as to her background, and the only things that the reader knows about her are her feelings for Charlotte and her constant cravings for alcohol. Given the strength of devotion to Charlotte, I hoped that she would become a much stronger character following the murder – inspired by a need for justice if nothing else – but this didn’t really happen.
If Shilly is somewhat vaguely drawn, she is at least likeable in her way. Charlotte, on the other hand, I found to be manipulative and something of tease, assessing the local men in order to determine the marriage that could improve her standing the most, stringing them all along in the process. Her murder was horrific, but I found that I wanted to know who killed her more from the perspective of solving the puzzle and bringing someone to justice rather than out of any need for closure for the death of a character that I liked.
The case is well thought out though, and I liked how Stansfield assessed the crime and the evidence through Shilly and Mr Williams, and whilst I didn’t take to the characters all that much, the plot did hold my attention enough that this wasn’t an issue. I also liked the conclusion that Stansfield came to – whilst it wasn’t entirely surprising, it was well thought out, and fit with the evidence presented.
I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely keen on the more supernatural side of the novel, although that is purely down to my own personal taste, and I’m sure that others will enjoy the slightly different twist that this gives to the tale. If it was just herb lore and superstition, I think I would have enjoyed it more, as that would have been fitting with the time, but I found that it went beyond that, and for me it just didn’t sit right in the novel.
Falling Creatures will be published on 23 March 2017 by Allison and Busby. Many thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.