I wanted to write something with a sense of place – to see if I could capture the feeling of one of those everyday, hot French villages, the kind that are nothing special but still carry that sense of being suspended in unspeakable heat. And I started with that phrase. The novel is set in the Dordogne village of Lusignac.
Chris Marsh saw a faded blue P for parking and pulled in to the empty car park. He stepped out of the air conditioned car and was suspended in the unspeakable heat. The tarmac sizzled and the air shimmered. The cooling fan in the Golf kicked in, and somewhere above his head a muffled church bell rang. It was half past noon according to the screen on his phone and the place seemed deserted.
The motionless air was hissing with the sound of grasshoppers and the cloying scent of honeysuckle was everywhere.
One of the protagonists is Chris, an about-to-be-divorced ex-journalist who is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, and has arrived in the village with his bicycle hoping to lose himself on some long rides. At the holiday rental complex, The Hermitage, he meets the other residents, including Charly Stone, a Lincolnshire police detective who’s on holiday with her friend Megan Kamau. Charly and Meg are interested in walks, sunshine, and visiting old churches, like the 12th Century one in the village.
The nave was empty, with worn and cracked stone slabs underfoot, and a single aisle down the centre, with unevenly spaced wooden benches on either side. Some benches had cushions in front for kneeling, and their arrangement seemed to depend on the position of the engaged columns that supported the roof. The interior was decorated with statues, including a monk with an infant, and several of the madonna and child. There were painted icons all around, and plastic flowers. The air smelled still and musty, heavy with history. It was so dark, Charly realised, because most of the original arched windows had been bricked up. There were two small stained-glass windows on either side of a larger one above the sanctuary. This was the one, she guessed, that people came to see.
‘Well, that’s horrible,’ said Meg.
‘Mmm. Odd,’ agreed Charly.
The scenes depicted in the stained glass were particularly horrific, even by mediaeval standards. Animals tearing people apart. Birds pecking at eyes.
‘What does it all mean?’
The point of view of the chapters alternates between Chris and Charly, who (while she can tell that Chris is a troubled man) can’t help liking him – and they begin to spend more time together.
Charly is intrigued by the apparent connection between the church in the village and her home county. There seems to be something to do with an 8th Century Lincolnshire saint, and she’s intrigued to spot the symbol of Hereward the Wake – the Wake Knot. And what’s with the little shrine to Mary, Undoer of Knots, in the church?
Then things start happening.
The atmosphere begins to get tense with an incident in the swimming pool. Then Chris is injured when he has an accident – or is it? – on his bike. One of the other Hermitage residents is also victim of an attack.
As they approached a lone walnut tree, she caught sight of his turquoise top under its shade and started undoing her seat belt straight away. The car’s internal alarms started bleeping. Chris was leaning against the tree’s trunk, facing towards them, holding his arm across his stomach. Meg skidded the car to a halt in the middle of the road, and Charly jumped out, with Meg not far behind.
Chris’ bike was in the ditch, broken, its carbon forks and top tube shattered from some impact. Chris was staring into space, blood on his forehead, his normally tanned skin pasty and white.
‘Chris?’ she wasn’t sure if he was conscious. But he moved his head and more or less focused on her.
‘Hi. I think I broke my arm or something.’
‘I think you broke more than your arm, mate,’ said Meg, checking his eyes. Charly noticed that Chris’ knees were badly grazed, and that his shirt and shorts were both ripped, exposing skin that looked red raw.
‘Can you walk, or should we call an ambulance?’ Charly said.
So much for the set-up. There’s now a mystery which seems to get murkier as time goes on. But it’s only a two week holiday, so what happens next?
(And, yes, of course the whole thing is a metaphor for Brexit.)
Available to order on the Kindle store (with enhanced typesetting):
Also available in paperback, (expensive option, but a nice book design with an exlusive cover illustration by my talented daughter Elodie).