Sabbie Dare, the zany, feisty heroine of Nina Milton’s In The Moors, is a city girl of mixed race and lost parentage; as a child she went into the care system and by the time she was twelve was a little fighting machine.
When we meet her, she’s 28 and clear about her path in life; she’s an eco-friendly pagan living in Somerset where she works as a therapeutic shaman. Her clients come to her for last-resort help, and such is Cliff Houghton. He’s been arrested for the recent murder of a child found. The evidence that points to Cliff feels watertight, but Sabbie is determined to trust her instincts and support him. She draws parallels between this murder and the shocking disappearance of four children, twenty-five years earlier. also buried out in the moors.The pressure mounts as another small boy goes missing, and Detective Sergeant. Reynold Buckley – a humourless and maverick copper – arrives at Sabbie’s door. Their relationship begins like an upmarket cocktail – bitter and full of ice, but with a sparkler fizzing at the edge. The plot is fast-paced from the start and the truly unexpected outcome is horribly chilling.
Milton powerfully describes atmosphere of the moors, which are filled with mists and bitter winds and watery peat bogs with sedge and rushes, but it’s the characters I gave my heart to. Each person Sabbie meets along her perilous journey stays in your mind. There’s Garth, a hippy who lives in a field in a van painted with dragons. Sabbie asks him if he travels about…I nstantly, this struck me as a stupid question. The man literally had no wheels…
Then there’s Caroline and Nora, both middle-aged, middle-class ladies who bake for their Women’s Institute; Nora is the missing boy’s gran and Caroline is the suspect’s mother, but they support each other through their trials. Perhaps most memorable is Sabbie’s foster mother, Gloria, who rescued Sabbie from her childhood and gave her a future.
I stayed up all night to finish this novel, chunky though it is, and everyone who has borrowed it has been equally hooked, even those who were skeptical about a shamanic theme. Perhaps that’s because Sabbie never lectures about her beliefs; she is happy to accept that the people around her – including her readers – may think she’s ‘a notch away from crazy.’ Or perhaps it’s because we can easily identify with a character who has learnt enough through her own suffering to lend her empathy with victims of cruelty.
In The Moors is as much about its heroine and the landscape of West Somerset as as it is a detective story – Milton’s narrative stays close to Sabbie Dare as she goes about Bridgwater, the place she made her home, and as her reader I was enchanted as she potters round her garden, feeds her hens and practices as a spiritual guide.
This novel makes you think deeply about what you’re reading. Although Milton never forces her story to make judgements or even conclusions, she examines in detail, through the emotions and reactions of her characters, troubling themes like paedophilia, race, the spirit world and repressed memory. But although Sabbie Dare finds herself investigating unthinkable crimes and being dragged into dark places, her open heart and uncompromising optimism kept me chuckling, giggling, and at times laughing out loud. She can’t help seeing the quirky side of the nastiest situations.
In The Moors is the first in the Shamanic Mystery Series, and in it Milton has revealed her ability to successfully explore dark places with a light touch. I can’t wait to go with Sabbie into the second story, when it comes out next year.
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