The James Version – Ruth Dugdall

The James Version

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press Ltd (14 Aug 2012)
  • My Rating – 4 stars
  • Source – Kindle purchase

I really enjoyed  Ruth Dugdall’s psychological thriller  The Sacrificial Man so I was intrigued by the concept of The James Version, a fictionalised account dealing with the Murder in the Red Barn, an early 19th century murder which captured the imagination of the British public.

In 1827, a young woman, Maria Marten, was shot dead by her lover, William Corder.  Maria’s family thought she had eloped with Corder but her body was discovered buried in the nearby Red Barn almost a year later when her stepmother, Ann Marten, said she had dreams indicating the location of Maria.  To modern eyes, it seems ridiculous that Ann was not considered a suspect at the time but Ruth Dugdall weaves a compelling tale about what might really have happened.

The James Version is set in Polstead 24 years after Maria’s murder and it is narrated by James Coyte who arrives at this desolate location to assume his new post as the local Rector.  The locals are not particularly friendly but Ann Marten wants James to transcribe her account of the events surrounding Maria’s murder.  James has good intentions but he just doesn’t seem well suited to the life of a Rector and ….let’s just say, it doesn’t bode well!

The novel has a menacing tone throughout, enhanced by the isolation of the setting and the lack of likeable characters – they all seem to be extremely self-serving, especially the supposedly more religious locals… As Ann’s story unfolds, the Rector sinks lower and lower, becoming dependent on alcohol and laudanum.

I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping tale of intrigue and dastardly deeds, brimming  with atmosphere and ideal for cold Winter nights.

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