My fourth novel is a historical crime novel in which Tabitha Hart investigates a cold-blooded murder and a utopian sect in an ancient forest. The book follows on from events in The Almanack and also reads as a standalone mystery.
Cheshire. May Day, 1753. Tabitha De Vallory's perfect life is shaken when a girl is slaughtered beneath the Mondrem Oak on her family's forest estate. Nearby, enigmatic Baptist Gunn is convinced that a second messiah will be born, amid blood and strife, close to the oak on Midsummer's Day. Could the murder be linked to Gunn's cryptic prophecy?
As Midsummer's Day draws closer, Tabitha soon learns the destiny that threatens her and those she holds most dear...
I recently got the chance to ‘dreamcast’ my choice of actors and director if it ever became a movie.
My heroine Tabitha is a former London courtesan who reluctantly returned to her home village. Recently married and expecting her first child, she is a clever risk-taker. To play her I’d again cast Crystal Laity. I loved her performance as harlot Margaret Vosper in series 1 of Poldark - a mix of sharp wits, charm and physical allure.
Tabitha’s is now married to Nat De Vallory, a former hack writer and the unexpected heir to Bold Hall. Hiding his connection to the victim, he struggles with his new position. Fascinated by the local prophet he makes an ill-judged test of Gunn’s powers to foresee the future. No apologies for again casting Aidan Turner (Ross Poldark) again.
The Prophet of the book’s title is Baptist Gunn, a travelling preacher – or maybe something less wholesome. Camping out on the family’s forest land, he prophecies the birth of a new messiah to take to America. He’s charismatic and slippery; I picture Sam Riley (Control, Malificent) in the spellbinding role.
Sukey Adams is Tabitha’s wet nurse, also expecting a child. Straight-laced and brimming with superstitious advice, she offers solace to her mistress. Kerrie Hayes is my choice, after playing another servant in sinsiter folklore TV series, The Living and the Dead.
Tabitha’s naïve friend Jennet Saxton leads the younger generation. Only sixteen, her search for romance and fascination with Baptist Gunn lead her into danger. I would again love a young Christina Ricci, circa Sleepy Hollow to play her.
My location is Tabitha’s home village of Netherlea, a Cheshire idyll around a manor house, where country customs mark the year. Scenes also move to Chester, a 2,000 year old walled city in England with distinctive black and white high-gabled buildings. The Blue Coat Hospital where the murdered foundling, Maria St James, was lodged, still stands on Chester’s Northgate.
In my dreamcast I’d love Ang Lee to be director. I’m thinking of the way the changing English landscape was backdrop to the emotional turmoil of Sense and Sensibility. In the final double wedding procession there is also great attention to historical folklore in these ribbon wedding favours.
And I’m sure the creator of The Life of Pi would do justice to the firelit sleeping prophecies, the mystical stones and barrows of the forest, and the phantom apparition that appears in Bold Hall’s ancient chapel.