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Unhallowed Ground

Unhallowed Ground

A Novel

Like a combination of Cold Comfort Farm and Psycho, Gillian White's brilliant new novel begins very quietly, almost romantically, then builds inexorably to nearly unbearable suspense.

It's about an attractive, fortyish widow, very lively but deeply wounded in her psyche, who inherits her brother's cottage in a remote part of rural Devon. Georgie is a London social worker in flight from unwanted tabloid celebrity when a child who is part of her caseload is killed. The little girl's father has been under suspicion of abusing the child, and Georgie is accused by the press of having ignored all the warning signs and abandoned the little girl to her father's cruel, and finally fatal, beating. An inquiry exonerates Georgie, but the press doesn't forgive her, and she can't forgive herself, so when she inherits her brother's cottage, she is happy to go there and sort things out.

Georgie settles in and takes stock of her neighbors. Chad Cramer, a small-time thief and poacher, has appropriated most of her brother's belongings and lives with Donna, a witless but somehow disturbing waif, who is clearly in terror of Chad; the Buckpits, dairy farmers, a ferocious, brooding gorgon of a mother and two hulking, brutish sons; and Nancy and George Horsefield, a well-to-do married couple whose brightly expensive lifestyle seems to conceal some hidden tragedy, for Mrs. H. is clearly crazy, and Mr. H., though he cares for her, is strangely on edge....

For a while, Georgie gets by restoring the cottage to something approaching livability and cleaning up the garden shed, in which something strange has clearly been going on, and her life seems almost idyllic.

Then a darker note is heard. Georgie sees a mysterious and threatening stranger, who runs away when Georgie approaches; Chad Cramer turns nasty; Donna begins to cling to Georgie; Mrs. Buckpit is openly hostile; and Georgie continues to be haunted by the child who was under her care and died, and by the thought of the child's father in prison now. As the summer ends, the countryside begins to turn savage and threatening, and now real terror creeps in. Georgie's beloved dog is stolen, her attempt at painting is livened up with splashes of blood, an intruder stares into her cottage at night with a baleful eye...

Finally, step by step, the horror increases to Psycho level as a snowstorm isolates the village and cuts Georgie off from the world -- leaving her at the mercy of a killer whose identity she can't even guess as the ax descends on her...
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439154892 | 
  • December 2008
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