A slow-burning, atmospheric novel, with plenty of mystery.
Say the words 'gothic horror' to me and you've immediately grabbed my attention. As such, I eagerly requested a copy of this book - as anything that promises historic settings, eerie moors and unsettling manor houses I felt certain would be a winner.
For the most part, I wasn't disappointed, though I have to admit, it wasn't quite what I was expecting.
Mercy Booth lives in Scarcross Manor (now there's a name!) with her father, an elderly lady called Agnes, and with a variety of farm-helps / shepherds close by. Right from the start, the mood is established; Mercy senses something evil in the rolling mist and runs home, convinced that she sees a pale figure outside.
A while later, a mysterious man called Ellis turns up, looking for work. No-one else quite trusts him, but he proves himself a good worker, and is one of the few who dares to venture out on those sinister moors at night. Meanwhile, things are getting pretty weird back at the manor. Mercy is plagued by nocturnal noises and spooky sights; hands touching her in the dead of night, a strange fire-guard, made to look like a child, seemingly moving from room to room. However, she's hell-bent on the manor being hers after her father's death, and nothing is going to make her flee.
One of the strongest aspects of The Coffin Path was the creation of atmosphere. Although nothing out-and-out terrifying happens, the author still manages to create a sense of growing dread, and there were several moments where I felt genuinely chilled. Her depictions of the moors were absolutely spot-on, and she captures the haunting quality of being out in the middle of nowhere very well.
Likewise, I found the historical setting completely convincing. I'm often a nit-picker about these types of things, but as far as I could tell, it was all thoroughly researched and as a result, felt very authentic.
The characters were earthy, occasionally repulsive, and compelling to read. For me, the stand-out was Mercy herself; mannish, ahead of her time as far as attitudes to a woman's role in the world goes. Her unrelenting determination to own the manor drove much of the action, and I loved the fact that she didn't quit, right until the bitter end. It was also a masterful twist at the end, and one I did not see coming.
My main niggle was with the central sections of the book, which did become ever so slightly boggy. After a truly creepy start, I was filled with anticipation, expecting the gothic horror to ramp up even further. However, it never really revved into action for me- it was always a simmering, anticipatory kind of horror, rather than anything actually really happening. I felt like I needed some sort of conclusion about what was going on in the house too - there was never really any resolution, but then, given that this wasn't actually the main thrust of the novel, I can understand the author's reasoning for writing it like this.
Overall though, very enjoyable - and deserves to be read for the superb atmospheric descriptions if nothing else.