Review: That Old Black Magic by Cathi

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April 1943: four boys playing in Hagley Woods, Essex 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 …

Truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy this book and the writing style was too dry and incredibly confusing for my tastes. I lost track of what was going on a few times and found that I didn’t really care enough to go back and muddle it out.

This book takes place in Britain during WW2, an undercover police investigator is trying to locate a missing woman and investigate the validity of a medium (why not?). I was expecting this book to be rich with atmosphere, characterisation and possibly a strong supernatural element but it didn’t really deliver. There’s a lot of bouncing about from place to place, with lots of peripheral characters popping up repeatedly. Though I think it was historically accurate and very well researched, I don’t feel that the entertainment element was quite right.

I know that there was a lot of fascination with spiritualists and mesmerism around this time, especially when there was so much death around and this book revolves a lot around the ‘is there any truth to it?’ mystery but I wasn’t satisfied with the take on it or the result.

This book may be better suited to fans of historical fiction during wartime, but it wasn’t for me.

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