Book Review: The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor

Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Publishing Info: 2021 by Penguin Michael Joseph UK
Pages: 400
Publisher’s Summary:
500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide

Welcome to Chapel Croft.

For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten.

And in a close-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome.

Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.

Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls?
Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages?
And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself?

Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.

But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor (Penguin Michael Joseph UK, 2021)

My thanks for this review go to Penguin Michael Joseph UK and NetGalley, for providing me with the pre-release e-book version of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Please support authors and publishers by purchasing The Burning Girls upon its release on the 21 January 2021.

The Burning Girls is a real page-turner. C. J. Tudor manages to create a web of intrigue, not just with its central mystery, but with the way they manage to extract everything from the rural settlement of Chapel Croft. Readers are introduced to a plethora of locals, some savoury individuals and some not, but all giving off the distinct impression that secrets to their past lie just below the surface. Chapel Croft has a history tinged by death, a history that has shaped local traditions. One of these is the ritual of throwing small figures made out of twig into a fire, as offerings to the Burning Girls, two young female martyrs killed hundreds of years ago, but who can appear in visitation to those in mortal danger. Though Chapel Croft has the spirituality of a rural settlement on the surface, darkness in the form of murders and satanic ritual lies just beneath the surface. The touch of rural horror really adds to the paranoia and suspicion the readers share with the protagonists, and makes the central mystery more complex to solve. Occasionally this does stray into the paranormal horror genre too far, to the point where it takes attention away from the mystery, but this is only a minor detail. C. J. Tudor’s masterful world and atmosphere building gives The Burning Girls a setting that both adds to the mystery and the paranoia and suspicion in the protagonists and readers alike.

Mother and daughter pairing Jack and Flo make a great pair of protagonists in this novel. Not only are they pitched perfectly in terms of personality but their likeability is boosted by how relatable they manage to be. Neither is portrayed as a pure soul and both are prone to keeping secrets and being a bit too curious into what occurs in the lives of others. Their faults aside, they are easily the most relatable characters in the book, thereby making great audience surrogates when they move from Nottingham to Chapel Croft, and uncover all of the mystery and horror buried deep in the history of the village and its residents. What makes these protagonists even stronger is the relationship the pair have, with the mother overprotective over her teenage daughter and what she gets up to, and the daughter wanting to forge her own path in the world and trying new things; both of these characters’ intentions are put in severe risk when they become embroiled in the machinations of the village, and their relationship is stretched. Credit must be given to how much detail C. J. Tudor puts in their relationship, as it allows the readers to be more invested in the narrative with realistic and likeable protagonists.

The narrative itself makes for a highly exciting read at points, especially in the last hundred or so pages when the walls were closing in on the characters as the mystery of Chapel Croft gets revealed in full. When this happens, it is nearly impossible to put the book down. What also makes this section in particular so compelling is the way that the author utilises twists to throw readers off the trail, twists that are brilliant and a real sucker-punch to the readers, and most importantly twists that catch you unawares. Many revelations caught me off guard when reading this book. Much like the nature of this book’s narrative and the general tone, C. J. Tudor’s storytelling is one of secrecy, where they only give the readers enough information they need to keep intrigue and ask more questions. The book is a hydra of questions; once one is answered, another two are raised. Even in the supposed climax of the narrative, there was a couple of devastating yet clever twists that would change how you see the book on repeat readings. The writing was fantastic in The Burning Girls, maintaining intrigue throughout and providing a highly exciting book that gets harder to put down the more you read.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about mysteries in small rural settlements, in a similar vein to The Wicker Man. The intensity and brief but powerful horrific imagery means this book is not for the faint-hearted. It is also a superb read to anyone who likes to solve a mystery, with twists that will make you doubt your predictions and throw them out of the window. For anyone who has not read C. J. Tudor’s work before, expect a thrilling ride with flashes of horror.

C. J. Tudor’s The Burning Girls is a chilling and suspense-filled mystery novel that contains a myriad of twists, reveals and questions. Secrecy is a prominent theme in the residents and history of Chapel Croft, and the author matches that by keeping their readers in the dark right until the last pages. The writing and tension hooks the reader in, especially towards the climax, and is one of those books that are nearly impossible to put down.

Star Rating: 4.5/5

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