Author of the Month

Name: George Mann

First Novel: The Affinity Bridge

Most Recent Book: Wychwood

'A masterly and thrilling story of murder and bloodshed swirled gloriously with folklore.'

After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother s house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong. Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwoods: a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. Elspeth recognizes these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court deep in the forest. As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades.

Nothing intrigues me more than a crime novel steeped in mythology. What Mann does superbly is superimpose the myth of the Carrion King over the present day. By showing tales of yesteryear told to children to frighten them and to keep the elders from straying on to the path of darkness, these fables still apply to us today. Centred round an idyllic village, the slaughter in ‘Wychwood’ feels even more insidious than if carried out in a big city. In a village there are no places for suspects to hide and some know everyone else’s business. This is wonderfully conveyed in Mann’s novel, ‘Wychwood’, the first in a series featuring Elspeth Reeves and Peter Shaw.

As I say above, anything involving myths immediately gets my attention… or in the case of a ghost story, an isolated house in the middle of nowhere and I’m sold! There are no ghosts here, but plenty of suspense which Mann uses perfectly to drive his reader onwards. I wish there really was a Carrion King myth as Mann painted such a vivid picture for my imagination that I could see him and his disciples in technicolour. Obviously, bringing alive myths and legends is Mann’s metier.

Ellie and Peter are amiable characters and it will be interesting to read more of the background history of both, especially Ellie’s time in London. My only worry is that Ellie does tend to take in far too much caffeine!

With an amateur dramatic production of the Carrion King nearing opening night, there are plenty of candidates who could be obsessed with the Carrion King to make him to come ‘alive’ and retrace his steps. Mann propelled me towards the end of his book, the pages going so fast they sounded like the flapping wings of a startled crow. A masterly and thrilling story of murder and bloodshed gloriously swirled with folklore. You will devour this book like a nymph feasts on the shadow of a heart! Who could ask for anything more!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) You are better known for your Newbury and Hobbes books which are set in a Steampunk version of Victorian England and the Ghost series in 1920’s New York. Why have you set ‘Wychwood’ in the present?
Well, the short answer is that it felt right for the story. To me, Wychwood was always going to be a story about the past impinging on the present, two confluent tales, both evolving through the course of Elspeth and Peter’s investigations. I'm fascinated by folklore and mythology, and how it's influenced everything from place names, through to local superstitions, and even modern day practices and celebrations, such as passion plays and village fetes. To me, it's fascinating to see how these stories have been transmitted and transmuted through the years. So when it came to Wychwood, I was really keen to explore that, to see how a myth could become intertwined with the modus operandi of a killer.

I suppose the other part of the answer is that I felt it was time for me to do something different. I've written 12 books set in the broader ‘Newbury & Hobbes universe’ now, and I wanted to flex and challenge myself. I'm a huge fan of crime fiction, and I've been keen to write a modern day crime novel for some years. This felt like the opportunity to do that, but to bring my own particular approach to it, too.
2) I am not sure if true or from your imagination, but the murders in ‘Wychwood’ are based on the Arthurian legend of the Carrion King. Have you always been fascinated by legends and myths and is that why you feature them in your latest book?
The story of the Carrion King is entirely fictional, but I did a lot of work exploring traditional British myths and legends in the hope of making it feel authentic.

I've always had a fascination with mythology, since a very young age. Everything from the Classical stories (probably fuelled by Ray Harryhausen movies and a number of children’s books I used to pore over), to the quirkier, more local folklore of the British Isles. So it seemed like a natural fit to explore them here. It happened very naturally, actually, during the first, explorative draft. The Carrion King was originally intended to be a bit of local colour, to add some depth to the fictional villages and towns I was creating, but I soon realised that it needed to be more fundamental than that, and the more I wrote, the more it became the main driving force of the plot.
3) At the same time the Winthorpe Players, an amateur dramatic society are putting on a play about the Carrion King at Winthorpe Manor open air theatre. Did you have to do much research in how an ‘am-dram’ society worked?
Well the setting of the theatre at Winthorpe is based on a very familiar theatre close to where I live, called Tolthorpe. I've been there many times to watch the players perform Shakespeare or Restoration Comedies, and they're anything but amateur.

So while I was writing all of the Winthorpe scenes, I very much had that real life setting in mind. As far as researching the ins and outs of how ‘am-dram’ societies work, I did read a couple of books that helped point the way, and spoke to a couple of actors I know. Really, though, it was always about the characters, first and foremost, and creating a situation that could lead to rising tension, and to provide possible leads and motives for Ellie and Peter to investigate. The am-dram society seemed to provide that opportunity, and another angle for me to be able to explore the Carrion King mythology, this time from a different perspective.
4) There is a sense of the claustrophobic village in ‘Wychwood’, which reminded me greatly of ‘The Witches’ by Peter Curtis aka Norah Lufts and ‘The Wicker Man’. Have you been raised on books/films like these and why do you think the isolated village is prime material for a crime/horror book/film?
Oh, yes! Absolutely. I was very much operating in that genre. I love that sort of story about an isolated community, or a ‘village under siege’. Other examples that have been an influence are things like ‘Children of the Stones’, ‘Night of the Eagle’, ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ and the 70s Doctor Who serial ‘The Daemons’. They all have that sense of a community brought together under desperate conditions, or else the reverse - a community clinging on to strange traditions, and an outsider coming in and having to face this pagan otherness. There are loads of great examples. It's what ‘Hot Fuzz’ parodies so well.

I was very much aiming to capture that claustrophobic sense of a small community, where everyone thinks they know everyone else's business, but really, there's much more going on under the surface than at first appears.
5) Ellie (Elspeth) Reeves is a journalist who has gone back to the parental home after a series of upsets in her personal and professional life. She meets D.S. Peter Shaw, an old school friend of hers. I really enjoyed my time with them both. Are you planning more for Ellie and Peter or will ‘Wychwood’ be a standalone?
Oh, very much so. I'm planning their second investigation right now. If readers enjoy Wychwood then I'd love to go on and tell more of Ellie and Peter’s story, and further tales of the Wychwood area. I'm certainly keen to mine further into British folklore for inspiration, too. I'm having a lot of fun digging into some particular mythology for the second book at the moment, but you'll have to wait to find out what it is!
6) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Just one? Then I think it would be to remember that writing a novel is as much an exercise in stamina as anything else - it's about finding a way to write something every single day, to keep adding to that manuscript until it's finished. Then to start over and go through it all again, and again, until it's right. I liken it to climbing a mountain. But reaching the summit is only the first stage of the journey. Once you're at the top, you still have to go down the other side.
7) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels (and they can include sci-fi) that have made a lasting impression on you and would take with you to a desert island?
Oh, absolutely! I tend to read crime fiction more than any other these days, although I've been a fan for many, many years, since first picking up a Puffin edition of Sherlock Holmes stories as a kid.

The top three crime novels that have had a lasting impact on me and my work are probably: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, Gallow’s View by Peter Robinson and The Death Club by G. H. Teed.