‘Touched’, by Joanna Briscoe

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Touched, by Joanna Briscoe, Hammer, RRP£9.99, 256 pages

An ideal family move to an idyllic English village in 1963. But their cottage on the green is not ideal. Ugly damp stains begin to creep across the ceiling; there are peculiar noises and pungent sickly smells. Then a daughter disappears. Then another.

Touched, Joanna Briscoe’s fifth novel, is a ghost story interwoven with crime, love and horror. It works on every level. Crowsley Beck – the perfect village, with its conservative, chintzy inhabitants – is a marvellously eerie setting for ghosts. It is also the kind of place where a bright married woman might feel so stifled that she falls for the man next door. Or simply goes insane.

But ghosts and adultery are not the most sinister aspects of Crowsley Beck; beneath the porcelain veneer, the village is riddled with worms. Touched is a finely balanced creation, reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Briscoe’s prose is sensuous, poetic, light. The rhythm is delicately controlled. A strange, fascinating tale.

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