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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

‘The Yellowhammer's Cradle’ by Sally Spedding

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform,
17 August 2016.
ISBN: 978-1533319272

Ardnasaig House, the bleak loch-side home of architect Donald Baird and his family, has become even more desolate following the inexplicable disappearance of his wife, Isobel, in 1846.  When the search for Isobel proves fruitless, Baird retreats to work abroad and rarely returns home.  James, his son, feels abandoned by his father and lives a friendless existence in the gloomy mansion, with only a housekeeper and maid, Margaret and Janet Lennox, for company.

It is now 1851 and the luckless James expects his father’s return as Hogmanay approaches.  He engages an additional maid, Catriona Mairi McPhee, to assist with preparations for Donald’s stay, but little thinks that she and Janet will become mortal enemies.  As the girls vie for supremacy within the household they must also hide evidence of dark and damning deeds they committed when they were younger.  The macabre, often sordid, past lives of Janet and Catriona slowly unfold and it is not until well into the novel that the truly malevolent protagonist finally shows her hand. 

This is not a cosy mystery and there is precious little light at the end of the several tunnels, real and metaphorical, that Spedding has skilfully burrowed into the story.  The narrative does, however, realistically convey the hardships and uncertainty that the girls, both from poor families, are born into; in this sense one feels a certain empathy with them even as their rivalry becomes ever more visceral. 

Steeped in ancient superstition, Sally Speddings tale of avarice and betrayal is a gothic horror that chills the blood from start to finish.  I found this a gripping and enthralling read, perfect for a winter’s evening.
Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent

Sally Spedding was born by the sea near Porthcawl in Wales and trained in sculpture in Manchester and at St Martin's, London. My work was detailed, accurate and in demand, but I began to realise words can deliver so much more than any narrative sculpture or painting. Sally’s first crime mystery, Wringland, has a strong historical thread and is set in the bleak fenland around Sutton Bridge. Cloven also invokes the past while in A Night With No Stars, published in January 2005, it's a fourteen year old murder which destabilises the present. Prey Silence, set in SW France, featuring an animal rights activist, was published in July 2006. Come and be Killed, set in the Malvern Hills, came out in January 2007. Her strong familial connections with the Pyrenees, Germany and Holland have provided her with themes of loss and exclusion. The dark side of people, and landscape. The deceptive exterior, the snake in the grass are all themes which recur in her writing. Sally is married to the painter, Jeffrey Spedding.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.