First published back in November of 2011, British author Francis Cottam’s (aka F. G. Cottam) fifth novel to see publication was the quietly sinister tale entitled ‘Brodmaw Bay’.
The Greer family had always enjoyed living in London. The busy hustle and bustle of the city life is what they had come to call home. But, when James and Lillian Greer’s teenage son Jack is seriously wounded by a tyre iron wielding youth during a mugging, James decides that London is no longer a safe place to call home. And it’s as his mind is full of these thoughts, as he sits by his unconscious son lying in the hospital bed, that he comes across a children’s book entitled ‘Brodmaw Bay’ that shows a collection of beautiful illustrations of the most idyllic and quaintly old-fashioned coastal village that Greer could ever imagine. Illustrations that were undoubtedly the work of his very own wife – the now very successful children’s book illustrator.
However, Lillian Greer has absolutely no recollection of doing these particular illustrations. The date of publication shows that they would have been done during her time at university, studying for her creative profession. Other than that, she has no clue. And so, armed now with his own copy of the book, James Greer starts to do a little digging on the internet. And the search engine results reveal that Brodmaw Bay is in fact a very real place. A place that James Greer is quickly becoming convinced is the right place for his family to live.
With the decision that they will finally get out of London made, James Greer takes a couple of days to visit the Cornish fishing village by himself, to see if the area really is what they have been looking for. Staying at the local pub ‘The Leeward Arms’, Greer immediately finds himself warmly welcomed by the locals, in particular the somewhat out-of-place aristocratic couple Richard & Elizabeth Penmarrick.
James Greer lays his intentions to move to Brodmaw Bay on the table, and finds that the Penmarrick’s, as well as the rest of the small community, are more than happy with the inclusion of some ‘new blood’ in their tightly-knit village. Furthermore, Richard Penmarrick has under his management a vacant house that seems to meet the Greer family’s needs. A property named Topper’s Reach that is itself steeped in the old-fashioned fishing port’s history.
Completely taken by the quaint and out-of-the-way location, James Greer returns to London to bring his wife out to the Bay to see if she too is equally as besotted by the village and their very possible new life there. Whilst they are gone, James’ brother Mark looks after their two children, the now recovering Jack and his younger sister Olivia. But Olivia has been seeing strange things recently. Disturbing glimpses of an eerie faceless man in their garden. Not only that, but she has a new friend. Although no one else can see this new friend of hers.
But it’s not all plain sailing from here. The Greer’s are in the midst of a very rocky patch in their marriage. Lillian has just broken off from an affair with popular children’s book writer Robert O’Brien, of which Jack Greer has just found out about. As such their move to Brodmaw Bay promises to be a fresh new start for the family. One to make them stronger. One to bring them together closer. And one that on the whole promises to be a lot safer.
But Brodmaw Bay has its own secrets. Paganism is still very much a part of the life of such communities, but Brodmaw Bay seems to have kept even more with the local beliefs and traditions. A history that once called upon dark and inherently evil forces, with ritualistic practices at the very core of the village.
A history that has not yet been forgotten...
From the outset, Cottam sticks with a particularly slow and reserved pace, only very gradually setting down the key aspects to the storyline amongst a plodding quagmire of the Greer’s recent rocky patch in their family life. The writing style itself is not overly verbose, but instead Cottam feels the need to get deeply involved in all of the day-to-day ins and outs of the Greer’s family life.
Only after the reader has traipsed through approximately a quarter of the novel do the very beginnings of the move to Brodmaw Bay become a very distinct possibility. Up until this point, the preceding storyline had been almost completely dedicated to firmly setting down the premise and working upon the general development of the characters – in particular Lillian Greer’s affair with Robert O’Brien.
It must be said that Cottam has managed to paint a very fleshed-out and believable picture to base his story upon. Brodmaw Bay and its quaint community feel very real, as if it is still nestled away in a far corner of modern-day England. Indeed, the whole premise just reads like a real-life and almost mundane scenario, with little jumping out of the storyline as particularly thrilling.
But the story is a slow-burner. Good god is it just! However, slowly but surely, Cottam starts to creep in the sinister and downright eerie undertones of something that just doesn’t fit right with the village and the family’s relocation there. Furthermore, the handful of ghostly apparitions that appear within the first half of the novel are more mysterious than they are chilling. But they do offer some help in developing the change in mood for the tale.
Forget any degree of excitement. There’s really none at all, bar the last thirty to forty pages of the book. It’s more an atmospheric and (hopefully) unsettling read, that very very slowly starts to get under the reader’s skin with the combination of all those things that are just not quite right about Brodmaw Bay.
What transpires in the end is a somewhat more reserved ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) mixed with an incredibly watered-down Lovecraftian element. Indeed, the similarities to ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) are undeniable and can be seen throughout the length of the novel. But Cottam’s re-imagining of the basic concept behind the classic Hammer story doesn’t really hit the same mark. All of the way through the novel, the tale is plagued by the plodding and over-worked ‘family’ storyline. It just becomes too monotonous. Too reserved and too restrained to really get the reader gripped into what’s gradually unfolding.
There are twists in the plot. Some which jump out at the reader with their sudden unpredictable nature. Others are too simplistic and common ground to have little if any impact on the reader. But together they do help in some way with keeping the background cogs of the tale turning.
With pretty much all of the action coming in the very last segment of the novel, it does still work on some levels, but feels somewhat rushed on others. Instead of the final desperate moments delivering one particularly frantic episode, hitting the reader square on the chin with the sudden dramatic finale brought about by the uncovering of the truth – like with ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) – the sudden burst of adrenaline at the end of the novel feels more clumsy, forced and out-of-place with the plodding storyline that preceded it. Cottam missed almost all of the opportunities to properly build on the tension and mounting suspense that should have brought the reader all geared-up to this final explosive point. And as such we are left with something that comes across as stale and sadly altogether unsuccessful.
The novel runs for a total of 345 pages.
© DLS Reviews