Book review: Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

When Grace Trewe becomes haunted by a 16th century woman drowned as a witch, powerful forces from the past threaten to consume her life in the present...

Tuesday, 2nd October 2012, 10:00 am

There are shades of Anya Seton’s Green Darkness in this atmospheric and nail-biting time-slip story from an author who has herself moved effortlessly from romance novels to a place that is deeper, darker and more disturbing.

Pamela Hartshorne is a medieval historian and using social records, a handful of real-life characters gleaned from her research and a liberal helping of artistic imagination, she transports us back to the shadowy corners of the ancient city of York in 1577.

And it’s a truly page-turning and thrilling journey through an age of superstition, religious fervour and plague where obsession, jealousy, hatred and warped desires can quickly become dangerous and deadly.

Grace Trewe is a free and restless spirit; she has been teaching in Indonesia for the last two years but has returned to England to sort out the affairs of her recently deceased godmother Lucy Cartmell.

Lucy was a self-declared witch and her Victorian terraced house in York is having a strange and discomfiting effect on Grace... why do rotting apples keep appearing in the kitchen, whose voice ripples through the darkness and why does the city give her an inexplicable sense of ‘wrongness’?

Grace is still trying to outrun terrifying memories of being caught up in the catastrophic 2004 Boxing Day tsunami but that doesn’t fully explain why she constantly dreams of drowning in the muddy brown waters of a freezing cold river.

Over four hundred years earlier, apprentice girl Hawise Aske longs to travel the world and fly like a bird but she’d settle for a sweetheart to fill the loneliness left by the death of her close friend Elizabeth.

When she exchanges smiles with a handsome young man at the city market and agrees to meet him for a tryst, she sets in motion a string of terrible events that will end in her being drowned as a witch in the River Ouse on All Hallows Eve.

Meanwhile, in present day York, Grace is being drawn more and more into the past, and into the complex and spiralling vortex of Hawise’s nightmare existence.

Faced with such an impenetrable knot of dangers and dilemmas, Grace is drowning in the inexorable swirl and suck of the past. Can anyone or anything pull her back?

Time’s Echo moves at a cracking pace, building up tension and gaining a gripping momentum as it weaves between the past and present, never once allowing the reader to presume what happens next or where Grace’s perilous path may ultimately lead.

It’s a tale told with passion and with a keen eye for authentic detail, psychological drama and the realities of daily life in the 16th century.

And towering over all are the immovable, evocative and majestic mysteries of York, a city so steeped in history that it cannot but be the star ‘character’ in what is a brilliant and bristling spine-chiller.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)