Joanna Briscoe's creepily atmospheric new novel 'Touched' is a take on John Wyndham's 'The Midwich Cuckoos'
The year is 1963 and the Crale family has moved to a little village called Crowsley Beck: right from the off, it is clear that something is rather rum. Formerly the owners of a cottage that adjoined another cottage belonging to Crale's mother, they have forced the old lady out – unwisely as it turns out – and are trying to turn the two cottages into one house. However, the house doesn't want to play ball. Walls ooze.
There are strange smells. Meanwhile, of the Crale children, odd Eva insists on wearing her grandmother's clothes and gets loopier by the day in the company of an imaginary friend called Freddie, who turns out to be something else, while beautiful blonde Jennifer transfixes everyone who looks at her. Then they both disappear.
To reveal much more would be to reveal the plot but what this book really amounts to is a take on John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos.
Joanna Briscoe spent her early years in Letchmore Heath, where the film was set, and here too we have a seemingly ordinary set up disturbed by things that go bump in the night.
The original had a whole tribe of otherworldly blonde children while here there's only the one but the idea is the same: perfection can conceal something else (not, in the case of Jennifer, what you might think).
First of all, full marks to Joanna for summoning up the atmosphere of the gin-and-Jag set in the early Sixties: bored housewives, furtive looks between married neighbours, the stifling heat of the summer and the no less stifling heat of the village's disapproval which is very well carried off.
The storyline involving Freddie turned out to be rather touching, even if I began to guess in advance what was actually the case.
However Odd Eva goes missing first, something the family doesn't seem to be particularly worried about on the grounds that she's done it before and she's a fruitcake.
Surely in reality there would be a little more parental concern? When Jennifer also disappears, it's so obvious what's behind it that I felt a little irritated.
You shouldn't always introduce the bad guy with what might as well be a neon light flashing "villain" above his head. However, it's a competently told yarn, for all that.