When I was a kid, they used to air these British films about kids on TV. They all would have been set in the 60s (it was probably the early 1970s when I watched them) and although I don’t really remember what any of them were about, I do remember that I wanted a British accent more than anything. I was also a fan of Enid Blyton’s books – especially the ones set in boarding schools.
Lindsey Barraclough’s debut novel Long Lankin doesn’t take place in a boarding school, but it did make me think of those movies. The language, in particular, was reminiscent of that particular time. Things in Barraclough’s novel are “smashing” and words like “blimey,” “cheerio” and “crikey” pepper the novel. The whole novel unspooled in my head like one of those movies. I loved it!
Long Lankin is inspired by the English ballad “Lamkin” which tells the story of a woman and her infant son who are murdered by a mason who seeks revenge for not having been paid. The original ballad can be found here.
Said my lord to my lady as he rode away:/ Beware of Long Lankin who lives in the hay.
In Barraclough’s intelligent and creepy re-telling, Long Lankin is a sinister, slithering man who steals children in the small English town of Bryers Guerdon. When Cora and her little sister Mimi go to Guerdon Hall to live with their great-aunt Ida, Cora soon discovers that her aunt’s crumbling home is full of secrets and her aunt doesn’t seem all that pleased about their arrival. It’s 1958 and Cora and Mimi’s father has sent his children to Ida as a last resort. Their mother is ‘away.’
The story is told from the perspectives of Cora, Aunt Ida and Roger, a local boy. Cora is smart and inquisitive and soon becomes interested in what she knows her aunt is not telling her. Something strange is going on in the isolated little town and it has to do with the church which Aunt Ida tells her she is “absolutely not – under any circumstances…it was completely forbidden” to visit. Of course, that makes it the first place Cora wants to go.
Long Lankin is atmospheric and smart. It’s filled with Latin warnings, menacing shadows, whispers and more secrets than you can shake a stick at. Readers will have to work a little to keep the characters and the story straight, but it’s totally worth the effort. As with the best ghost stories, this one has a beating heart at its centre and it takes Cora and Roger quite a while to uncover the town’s secret. It’s worth the wait. The novel’s conclusion is terrific, too.