Stansfield does a great job of dropping a whole host of suspects throughout the book, all of whom could have motivation…
Charlotte Dymond, a girl with eerie powers is murdered on the Cornish moors, and the locals have found the man they’ve deemed guilty of the crime – but is it really him? And what can a local farm girl, friends with both the murdered and the accused, do to find out the truth?
Katherine Stansfield’s second novel is as atmospheric a look into Cornwall as her first, The Visitor. Whereas her debut was concerned with the coast and sea air, Falling Creatures is steeped in Victorian mist, mud and moor stone. It’s a strong setting for this supernatural murder story, written from the perspective of farm girl Shilly.
Shilly befriends Charlotte Dymond moments before they are both chosen by a farmowner, Mrs Peters, to become her new help. Shilly’s first encounter with Charlotte is strange and unsettling – I felt as bewildered by it as Shilly, and it’s a feeling I continued to have towards Charlotte throughout the book. She is a mysterious entity, shrouded in secrets and spells. Shilly is as much charmed by her (perhaps literally, given Charlotte’s propensity with folksy charms) as she is scared, and as we only see things through Shilly’s gaze, we only ever learn as much about Charlotte as she does.
There are arguments about perception layered throughout Falling Creatures, particularly between Shilly and Mr Williams, the the man who comes down to the moor from the city to help get to to the bottom of the crime as it actually unfolded, for his own gain. Shilly is convinced of the existence of the supernatural, Mr Williams is on the side of logic, often speaking down to Shilly for daring to believe anything outside the confines of what he sees as rational. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s more to Mr Williams than meets the eye – I will say I didn’t much like him as a person though. He talks down to Shilly often, as if he thinks her station in life makes her less than him.
Shilly and Mr Williams agree on one thing, however. The man accused of Charlotte’s murder, Matthew Weeks, didn’t kill her. Stansfield does a great job of dropping a whole host of suspects throughout the book, all of whom could have motivation for killing Charlotte hiding behind their shady alibis. I’m often quite good at figuring out who dunnit, but I could see so many plausible options in Falling Creatures, and even doubted Shilly’s stance that Matthew could never have done it. Stansfield has written Shilly at just the right level of naive that as a reader you want to believe in her conviction, but you know she has a lot to learn about the world still, so could she be wrong about Matthew?
If you liked His Bloody Project, you’ll enjoy Falling Creatures. They both exist in the narrow confines of small communities on the outer edges, built on peat and codes of honour. Both novels provide insight into historical approaches to legal cases, and each starts out early with the premise that you know who the murderer is.
Or do you? Whereas His Bloody Project is framed as a true story, Stansfield’s Falling Creatures is based upon a real story, that has become legend within the local community. Stansfield created Shilly to fit into some of the gaps that exist in the story as it has passed down through the generations, and uses her to explore discrepancies in the archived evidence. It’ll certainly leave you wondering…