About the Book
April 1943: four boys playing in Hagley Woods, Worcestershire make a gruesome discovery. Inside an enormous elm tree, there is the body of a woman, her mouth stuffed with a length of cloth. As the case goes cold, mysterious graffiti starts going up across the Midlands: ‘Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?’
To Ross Spooner, a police officer working undercover for spiritualist magazine Two Worlds, the messages hold a sinister meaning. He’s been on the track of a German spy ring who have left a trail of black magic and mayhem across England, and this latest murder bears all the hallmarks of an ancient ritual.
At the same time, Spooner is investigating the case of Helen Duncan, a medium whose messages from the spirit world contain highly classified information. As the establishment joins ranks against Duncan, Spooner must face demons from his own past, uncover the spies hiding beneath the fabric of wartime society – and confront those who suspect that he, too, may not be all he seems …
I have read many crime fiction novels and quite a few spiritualism/witchcraft novels but never one that combines both. That Old Black Magic is a fictional novel that also has elements of fact, the body found in a tree being one of them, along with some characters who did exist. One of them, Helen Duncan, I had never heard of, until she was the answer to a question on a quiz show on TV a few days before I started reading this novel.
It is a book where you really need to concentrate, there are many characters and sometimes I did struggle to see the connection. It also takes place over a few years, the discovery of the body is in the last half of the book. Most of the novel concerns the investigation into Helen Duncan and the spy ring. It was the story around the spy ring that I found the most fascinating.
I loved the descriptions of it all. The spookiness at the seances, the bombed out areas in Birmingham and every body who featured. Minor characters provided a lot of empathy to the novel, talking about how they felt over people dead or those who had nothing left. Spooner was an amazing character who wanted to help his country and he appreciated all that he came into contact with. He showed that he had a heart with even the simplest of actions, such as lending his car.
Cathi Unsworth will be appearing at First Monday Crime on 30th April. you can find more details here