Saturday, 31 October 2015

Halloween: Flowers for a Dead Witch by Michael Butterworth



published 1971


Flowers for a Dead Witch


[Heroine Polly gets the lowdown from the local teenage tearaway.]

‘Julien was a doll,’ he said. ‘They’d have destroyed her today, just like they did in the 16th century. All the grey-faced moneybags with their fur-lined coats and their earthly paradise of property. Julien threatened them by the way she looked and the way she lived. She wore men’s clothes for riding out, and that in itself has been half-way to witchcraft since the burning of Joan of Arc. As well as that, she treated the peasants like human beings, and that was bad, ‘cos the Granchesters weren’t the only lords of the manor in the district, and the others didn’t like it one bit… Do you have a fag please?’
Polly gave him a cigarette and lit it for him, looking down at his bowed face and his long, downswept eyelashes.

He blew a column of smoke towards the ceiling and went on: ‘I don’t know the ins and outs of it, nor does Miss Granchester, but the time came when even her own family got slightly bugged with the way Julien carried on. And by then the local Establishment had definitely decided that her behaviour was frightening the horses and making the peasants restless for more bread, so they lined her up for the chop – and there was a classic means….’

‘Witchcraft.’

commentary: If the Past Offences year-of-the-month meme hadn’t already done 1971, I would be suggesting it so I could use this book – it would be ideal. Nothing could be more of its time – the picture of an English village changing, the rough boys, the oh-so-uptodate Polly Lestrange, who has come from Canada so is bringing a new eye to the old-fashioned ways round here. She has come to visit her dying elderly relative in a weird old house. Everybody behaves in a strange and suspicious manner. But maybe the respectables aren’t so respectable, and the tearaways aren’t so wicked?

Polly’s ancestor Julien, above, was burned as a witch, and now her grave is a focus of attention – there are flowers on it, and is a new coven forming? Why is the vicar so upset? Why can Polly not get in to see the dying Miss Granchester?

It’s very Gothic and over the top, and will remind a certain generation of English readers of a Hammer House of Horror film – there’s a touch of Witchfinder General in there, along with those films featuring young women in mini-skirts and English manor houses. And strange noises in the night.

It’s an atmospheric romp, with a surprisingly solid plot at the centre.

Someone recommended this book, and I cannot track down (in my head) who it was – I’m guessing someone on a crime and mystery forum. Please tell me if it was you, and take a bow. [He did tell me! Thanks, Xavier!]

Apparently Michael Butterworth used his own house in Suffolk as the recognizable model for the house in the book.

The picture is from a 1915 silent movie called The Witch Girl via the NYPL.










13 comments:

  1. Moira, this sounds like a perfect Halloween read. I like the plot and the characters, and the element of "What next?" in the narrative.

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    1. Yes, it was a good read Prashant, and the setting and era seemed very real.

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  2. Oh, this does sound like a great Halloween read, Moira! And yes, 1971 was such a time of change and new social developments - perfect for a look at the traditional village that wasn't so traditional any more. I like Butterworth's way with dialogue too.

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    1. He's an interesting writer, Margot, I would definitely read another by him...

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  3. I am the "Someone", Moira! I've championed both this book and its author for years and I'm glad to finally find someone who shares my enthusiasm. :)

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    1. Oh thank you for identifying yourself! I knew it was someone in the group. Thanks for the reco, I was glad to have read it. Are his other books good?

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    2. I've read only one other book of his, Villa on the Shore, which was equally good and strong on atmosphere and plot. I own another, The Black Look whose blurb sounds promising (a hand found in a model's suitcase) but for some reason I haven't read it yet. He also wrote several all-out gothics as Carol Sainsbury.

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    3. Talking about it prompted me to read The Black Look which I did in a gulp. I'm reporting on my blog (with a link to yours!)

      n excellent book by an author deserving better recognition:

      http://atthevillarose.blogspot.com/2015/11/michael-butterworth-le-noir-est-la-mode.html

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    4. Thanks Xavier - I just went over and read it, and immediately went to amazon and ordered a cheap copy! He does seem to deserve rediscovery, doesn't he. I have given you credit above, by the way, for originally introducing me to Butterworth.

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  4. This sounds very interesting although I haven't read much that is Gothic in a while. Do you know much about his other books? I have not heard of this author. Both Remains to Be Seen and The Man in the Sopwith Camel have interesting titles and brief descriptions at Fantastic Fiction.

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    1. I think I have read another by him, but can't remember much - it would be good to find out more about him. He was obviously an interesting man, with interesting books.

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  5. I did see another post somewhere which recommended another book by this author - but not an author I'll be pursuing...pass

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    1. Are you sure he isn't in the box somewhere? He seems to have written a few thrillerish books in the 1970s.

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