Gripping gothic horror mysteries are best read at this time of year, when leaves are falling, and nights are drawing in. As it gets colder in the approach to Christmas, nothing beats snuggling up in front of the fireplace with a mug of tea, and a sinister, nail-biting ghost story.
Concluding this two-part series, I pick the second of my published novels best read in the run-up to Christmas: Spectre of Springwell Forest.
The novel opens in Exeter, 2010. Lily Parker learns that her daughter Olivia is to move to the village of Springwell, near Plymouth. To the surprise of her husband Andy, this sends Lily into terrified despair. She tells him that Olivia must not move to Springwell, under any circumstances. Andy wants to know why, and Lily tells him what happened to her many decades previously, in 1979, warning him that she has a horrifying secret that she had previously hoped to take with her to the grave.
In 1979, Lily and her then six-year-old daughter Olivia, along with her first husband Tom Henderson, move to the sleepy village of Springwell. Here they meet a tight- lipped community of secretive villagers who seem to have something to hide. Lily then discovers a painting of an abandoned railway tunnel in her attic, by a local artist, Alison Merrifield. Lily is strangely drawn to the painting, particularly the dark maw of the tunnel, and ends up hanging the picture in her hallway.
After meeting her neighbour and other mothers dropping their children at the local primary school, Lily is surprised to learn they all have similar paintings in their homes, all of them painted by Alison Merrifield, all of them showing the same abandoned railway tunnel. The other mothers dismiss this as something of a village in-joke, and when Lily visits Alison in her local craft shop, Alison herself insists she cannot understand why the paintings of the abandoned tunnel are so popular. But Lily senses she is being lied to.
Shortly afterwards, when Lily and Olivia go for a walk in the local forest, they come across a fenced off area in the heart of the woods where the barbed wire has been mysteriously torn apart. Investigating further inside the fenced off section, they discover the very same abandoned railway tunnel of the painting and enter the tunnel. A disturbing incident follows (which I won’t spoil).
After this incident, Lily starts to make out a mysterious figure in the painting of the railway tunnel. As time passes, the eerie figure becomes more and more clearly defined, but Lily is disturbed to discover no-one can see it but her. Worse still, as the sinister figure is revealed, Olivia starts to behave in an increasingly alarming manner.
Intrigued? Here’s what a few Amazon reviewers had to say:
“As a horror fanatic, it takes a lot to scare me in writing. Very few books manage to do it, but Simon Dillon’s Spectre of Springwell Forest gave me nightmares! After reading this book, you will never look at a painting of a tunnel the same way again… I can’t recommend the book enough, if you want something well-written, believable, and scary for a cold, dark night.”
“You cannot shake off the feeling that something is constantly watching you… But the biggest pull for the book is the climactic revelation. Here, the author deserves full points.”
“A darkly intense and intriguing horror story full of mystery, Spectre of Springwell Forest will have you on the edge of your seat. My jaw literally dropped in shock. Enter Springwell Forest if you dare, but be prepared for the consequences.”
“A wonderful horror/thriller. Creeping sense of unease starts almost immediately. Even before you know what is to come, you are shouting at Lily to leave well alone. Dillon writes excellently and believably as a 1st person female protagonist. The story is tightly written with little preamble, which has a pleasingly sudden way of throwing you into this strange and disturbing village.”
“Spine-chilling, terrifying, absolutely gripping. A fantastic read.”