“Beware of Long Lankin…” is an old English song that warns of a sinister creature who seems to have a penchant for eating babies. When Cora and her younger sister Mimi are essentially dumped on their elderly aunt in a very isolated village in England, they don’t feel very welcome. Aunt Ida is absolutely rigid in her house rules, and the girls feel stifled and desperate to get back to London. They don’t understand their aunt’s fear, and when Cora and some village boys begin to uncover the evil that lurks in the town’s history, she begins to understand what her aunt dreads so much.
Barraclough’s novel doesn’t waste time in setting up the creeping feelings it lends its readers. From the instant Cora and her sister Mimi are dumped with their Auntie Ida, the girls feel unwelcome. Their aunt tells them in no uncertain terms that they are to keep the doors and windows locked at all times, no matter how hot it gets inside the cottage. They aren’t allowed to explore the house or go down to the marshes–especially when the tide is out. All of this helps to set the stage for the stifling, restrictive feeling the book puts its characters and readers through.
Of course, kids being kids, the rules get broken, and with the help of some local boys looking for summer distractions, things go quickly awry. Barraclough has multiple points of view narrating the story, and they all work exceedingly well, but this is especially true in the case of Auntie Ida. As frustrated as Cora and the reader are with Ida’s unwillingness to talk about what’s happening or why she is the way she is, her narrative pieces help unravel the hard, awful life she’s lived.
So many elements of the book work together to create a truly memorable, creepy read, but it’s worth noting that Barraclough keeps her prose tight and her narrative authoritative. Even though the actual horror isn’t fully exposed until well into the second half of the book, most readers won’t mind: the suspense is that good.
This is a creeping horror story for sophisticated readers looking for something to really sink their teeth into (please, ignore the pun). Barraclough’s dark, atmospheric novel runs a little long, but the building suspense and vivid characters help to carry the plot towards its chilling conclusion. Many reviews have already said it, but it bears repeating: be prepared to read the last 100 pages all in one sitting).
Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough. Candlewick: 2012. Library copy.