On my bookshelves I have fairly limited space. Books jostle for a permanent slot as more and more enter my sphere. Most are read and moved into the storage box but a few select volumes of utter brilliance manage to retain their space on the shelf. I first read this book in 2002 and needless to say, it has never left the shelf, except to be re-read repeatedly.
'Hiding From The Light' features the fictional characters of the modern day inhibited by the real life historical characters' ghostly spirits, bidding them to evil doing. Emma Dickson feels drawn to the cottage in Mistley, Essex, which once belonged to her ancester Liza - a white witch, prosecuted and hung by the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. Of course Matthew Hopkins was a real person but the tale picks up the magical essence and draws his character to fit the fictional narrative with literary skill.
Emma leaves a good job in the city and her partner, Piers, to buy and move into Liza's cottage, compelled by its magnetic qualities. The relocation changes her life, ruins her relationship with Piers, and ends her city career, but as in all good fictional narratives, all is not lost. The promise of a better life is strong, if only Emma can overcome the spirit of Sarah Paxman, the ghost of many years prior seeking revenge on Hopkins for the murder of Liza.
Mistley's rector, Mike Sinclair, is reluctantly overtaken by the ghost of Matthew Hopkins and local modern day witch, Lyndsey Clark, declares herself a distant relative of Emma, and insists she as Sarah kill Mike as Matthew Hopkins. Mike's lay preacher Judith Sadler is only too keen to see Mike struggling with the issues in his parish, wanting nothing more than to take over his position as parish vicar. Local residents Alex and Paula are drawn into the historical drama and tradegy soon follows. Paula resents Lyndsey's baby sitting duties of their children but Alex, like the good-hearted neighbour, wants to help Lyndsey and Emma. As the historical fiction continues with Liza's arrest and cruelly unfair trial, Sarah Paxman fights to save her without success and ends up being tested by Matthew Hopkins as a witch herself. The test is interestingly unjust and historically accurate, as far as I can ascertain.
To add an edge to the drama, Barbara clevely includes the sub-plot of TV filming for Halloween in a haunted empty Mistley shop. The film makers manage to help out as the historical drama picks up pace and the modern day characters race agaisnt time to kill the spirits before the spirits kill them. To add that extra special twist, Emma and Mike fall in love but the spark is left to the readers imagination as the action takes center stage right up until the very last page. One of the smaller points in the story never leaves my memory; Emma's cats relocate with her but vanish as the action starts up towards the climax. As all creatures, in particular cats, their sixth sense kicks in and they safely return once peace returns to Mistley. It's a small extra but it really adds that hint of creditability to the tale.
'Hiding From The Light' is a fascinating read, fast paced and gripping, and belongs on every bookshelf in the land. I have purposefully not told you the outcome as I hope this feature will encourage you to give it a whirl yourself!
Barbara Erskin is an established author of historical fiction. She has a degree in medievial Scottish history from Edinburgh University. Barbara and her family split their time between the Welsh borders and their ancient manor house near the unspolit coast of North Essex. Barbara's novel 'Lady Of Hay' sold well over a million copies worldwide. 'Whispers In The Sand' was translated into twenty-three languages, and 'House of Echoes' was shortlisted for the WH Smith Thumping Good Read awards of 1995 and 1997, respectively followed by 'Distant Voices' and 'On The Edge of Darkness'.