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Books 115-116: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman and Little Face by Sophie Hannah

Both novels feature the theme of the Changeling Child, where a child is stolen and replaced by another. In the first it is featured in the form of a fairy tale written by characters in the past which is woven symbolically throughout the narrative. In the second, a modern day crime thriller, the nightmare of the stolen and substituted child is utilised without mythic elements.

Book 115: Arcadia Falls .
Author: Carol Goodman, 2010.
Genre: Romantic Suspense. Mystery. Folklore. Gothic. GLBT themes.
Other Details: Large Print Hardback. 605 pages.

The story involves the recently widowed Meg Rosenthal, who is forced due to reduced financial circumstances to take a teaching post at Arcadia School in upstate New York. From the 1920s it had been a famous artist's colony but later became a boarding school. Meg was especially drawn there because she is working to complete her doctoral thesis based on the fairy tales written and illustrated by Arcadia's founders: Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, who were believed to be but never confirmed as lovers. She hopes to gain access to private papers lodged at the school that will shed light on their relationship. However, soon after Meg's arrival with Sally, her moody teenage daughter, one of her folklore students dies in an incident that echoes the tragic death of Lily decades before. This death has repercussions that threaten Meg and Sally along with others.

Ghostly figures in the woods, pagan rites, creepy headmistresses, fog and winter storms, hidden secrets, forbidden passion,and much more; it did rather pile on the Gothic elements though in the main quite effectively. Goodman also does a good job of exploring the mother-daughter dynamic through Meg and Sally primarily though it is a theme that runs throughout the novel.

I'd been intrigued when I heard that this author was weaving in elements of folklore, fairy tales, witchcraft and paganism into her stories and this was recommended as a good introduction. I certainly found it an engaging story with a strong sense of atmosphere and interesting characters. The fairy tale element featuring the haunting tale of The Changeling Girl was well executed along with her use of the woodlands around the school as an archetypal 'dark wood'.

Arcadia Falls on Carol Goodman's site - contains more detailed synopsis and background on the story.

Book 116: Little Face (Spilling CID 01).
Author: Sophie Hannah, 2006.
Genre: Crime. Psychological Thriller. Police Procedural.
Other Details: Paperback. 358 pages.

New mother Alice Fancourt returns from an outing and notices that the front door of The Elms, the large house owned by her mother-in-law where she and her husband David also live, is ajar. David was at home looking after their two-week old daughter, Florence, though Alice finds that he's been asleep. On entering the nursery she begins to scream and insists that the baby in the cot is not Florence. David thinks that she is either lying or having some kind of breakdown. The police are called but is since there is a baby in the house is there any case at all? Alice continues to insist the baby is not hers and her emotional state becomes more erratic while David becomes increasingly hostile towards her.

However, a week later David reports that Alice and the baby have gone missing and so the police become more involved. Mr. Fancourt appears to be unusually unlucky as three years ago his ex- wife Laura had been murdered outside the same house during a mugging. Despite the fact a man was caught and later confessed Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse feels there is a connection and tries to investigate over the protestations of his Sergeant, Charlie Zaile, who insists it was an open-and-shut case.

I found it an amazingly tense psychological thriller and could see why it made Hannah's reputation. The structure features alternating chapters between Alice's first person narration from the day she discovers Florence missing and the third person perspective of the police opening a week later when Alice is reported missing. The alternating time-line does mean the reader has to pay attention though does serve the various twists and turns of the plot very well.

After reading A Room Swept White, I headed back to read this first book in the series. So I was pleased to be able to get more information on the background to the ongoing characters of Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zaile, which by Book 5 had been very established.

'Little Face' on Sophie Hannah's site - includes link to first chapter excerpt and more details.
Tags: crime fiction, fairy tales, glbt, mystery, pagan, police drama, romance, sexual violence, suspense, witchcraft
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