Phil Rickman's Curfew

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Summary: The town of Crybbe has a nightly bell ringing to announce the coming of curfew. As outsiders clash with the townsfolk, the truth of the matter is right around the corner. Phil Rickman's 1994 novel, a mixture of horror and thriller and antiquarian adventure is a fine longer read that combines smarts with tension, but never talks down to the audience nor loses itself in lofty ambition.

BLOT: (30 Oct 2013 - 07:49:23 PM)

Phil Rickman's Curfew

The Gist. In Crybbe, a border town between Wales and England, a nightly bell ringing is less a quaint custom and more a sign of a sickness underneath, a sickness that causes the mostly old and always somnolent townsfolk to clash with the outsiders as dark, beast-like shapes move on the old Tump and the long dead seep back into the lives of the living. Some outsiders are like Fay Morrison, there to take care of her troubled dad: on the edge of dementia and unexpectedly stuck to the place. Others, like Max Goff, are there to restructure the very roots of the town into a New Age Mecca. Goff wants more than a resort with a profitable business plan, he wants to bring the old standing stones back and to reawaken the lines of power that once pulsed through the area. When Goff brings in J.M. Powys, an author of a popular Earth Mysteries book, to chronicle the rebirth of the town, Powys begins to become a reluctant seeker of truth. Can he and Fay and friends find out what is actually going on—why there are no dogs in the town or why the townsfolk work so hard to keep their head down and what any of this has to do with the legend of Black Michael, a corrupt sheriff whose presence and legacy still haunts the area—or are these all Crybbe matters, dark secrets that outsiders can never penetrate?

Review. It is a testament to the power of Curfew, originally titled Crybbe in the UK, that it gets away with many of the tricks it swings: the slow burn, the false leads, the tendency to go off point from time to time, a protracted climax, and a few purposefully unresolved threads. Instead, this book—part horror and part thriller and part antiquarian adventure—turns these dalliances into a strength, a testimony to the many lives it brushes against, and makes for a nice multi-sessioned read [and unless you are particularly speedy as a reader, it will take a couple of sessions since it is nearly 700 pages long]. It makes fair use of a reversed dramatic irony, where the characters know more than the reader, and drips information in a satisfying but inconstant stream, to fill in the blanks and to enhance the mystery. Its greatest strength is its ability to deal with a wide variety of questions of faith, belief, mysticism, new agery, skepticism, pragmatism, and despair without ever smirking at anyone while always poking a mild finger of fun at everyone. This, and the excellent writing and interesting subject matter, help you to forgive its eventual descent into a "save the woman" male fantasy and the inclusion of a couple of unredeemable sorts out of place with the otherwise even handling of tricky gray areas. Quite a good read, even with its bumps. Recommended to those who like Earth Mysteries, "cozy" British thrillers, antiquarian fiction, and horror in the slow burn style.

Score. 7/8. +1 if you like discussions about John Dee while finding yourself kind of freaked out by backwoods towns. -1 if you like your heroes more obviously heroic or get bored when action doesn't occur every page.

Horror [sort of]


Written by Doug Bolden

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