I love a good ghost story, although they can sometimes turn out to be a little disappointing. But, when I saw The Coffin Path on Netgalley and the comparison to Michelle Paver, I couldn’t resist, and I was thrilled when my request to read this title was approved.
One coin marks the first to go. A second bodes the fall. The third will seal a sinner’s fate. The Devil take them all.
Maybe you’ve heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there’s something up here, something evil.
Mercy Booth isn’t afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father’s study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.
When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can’t see it yet.
What a wonderfully creepy story this is! From the very beginning of the novel, Clements sets the tone with Mercy Booth delivering the first lamb of the season, but with the ewe dying following the complicated birth. She saves the lamb, and rushes home to feed it, but on her walk home across the moors, she feels as though she is being watched by a malevolent, but unseen, presence. It’s an atmospheric start that is full of foreboding, and it lets the reader know exactly what they’re in for. And there are some extremely creepy moments in the novel which build up gradually from things that go bump in the night to more sinister goings on.
As with many stories of this nature, place has a significant role to play in The Coffin Path. Set on the Yorkshire Moors, Scarcross Hall is isolated, with the main route to and from this Gothic house being the coffin path of the title. I think that moorland works brilliantly in ghost stories. There’s something about the long stretches of land where straying off the beaten path can cost you dearly, as well as the superstitions that are often part and parcel of the history of the landscape. And of course, Scarcross Hall has its own, not entirely pleasant history…
Scarcross Hall is inhabited by Mercy, her father, and Agnes, who is a nominally their housekeeper, but so much a part of the family that it’s hard to see her in that light. Mercy is a fascinating character who determined to do things her way, whether her actions are approved of or not. At around 30, she is unmarried, and does as much work on the farm as any of the men who work for her. I love a character who isn’t afraid to break the mould, and Mercy is up there with some wonderful strong women – she reminded me of Sarah Perry’s Cora Seaborne in The Essex Serpent. She’s no frail creature, who needs to be shielded from anything more than a light breeze, but strong and capable, and she is more than willing to get stuck in.
The Coffin Path is a delightfully creepy tale with a strong main character that you care about and worry over, and I do recommend it if you’re a fan of Michelle Paver’s ghost stories, Dark Matter and Thin Air. It’s a relatively short read, and one that comes with a couple of nice little twists at the end.
The Coffin Path will be published by Headline on 8 February 2018. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read this title via Netgalley.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐