A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to local author CJ Harter by a very good friend of mine. I read and reviewed her debut novel, Rowan’s Well, and quite frankly, it was brilliant.(Rowan’s Well by CJ Harter) It was Domestic Noir at its best. It was a very dark novel, really disturbing in places, but it was a fascinating and engaging read. So, aware that she was writing her next novel, I was very excited to read it.
Fitful Head is different to Rowan’s Well. Whilst it is a psychological thriller of sorts, it is essentially a ghost story. Isobel is trying, unsuccessfully, to rebuild her life after it is torn apart by the death of her husband, Richard, whilst they are on holiday in Barcelona with their two teenage children, Ben and Melissa. She is simply existing and following the same routine each day, until she meets a mysterious stranger whilst walking her dog at Pennington Flash, a local nature reserve. Whilst wary of the stranger, she finds herself drawn to him, but when Isobel starts experiencing strange happenings in her home, she wonders if there is a connection to the stranger or if Richard is behind the ghostly events. As her family and friends worry about Isobel’s state of mind, and bear witness to some of the strange happenings in their family home, Isobel struggles to cope.
I’m not necessarily a fan of ghost stories generally, but I was completely gripped by this book. Harter makes the paranormal events so plausible, as a reader you easily buy into the experiences of the characters and feel every bit as uneasy as they do. She uses every literary device available to her to make the settings enhance the unease of the characters.
Harter’s character construction is beautifully executed, making them believable and likeable. As a reader, you want Isobel to find peace and to be able to cope with her grief. You want her family to pull together and you want her to lean on those who love her. Using a series of flashback chapters to give an insight of Isobel before Richard’s death, this assists the reader in piecing together Isobel’s state of mind, her relationship with her husband and other events which have shaped how she is feeling as the events of the novel take place.
Harter has a wonderful talent for shocking her readers. She did that in Rowan’s Well and there are a number of shocking bits in Fitful Head. You don’t forget a CJ Harter book in a hurry and readers have a more enjoyable reading experience as a result. For me, the location of the novel being a five minute drive from my house, familiar places added an additional facet of awareness and enhanced my perception of the setting and the characters responses. I know Pennington Flash well. I take my children there to see the ducks and the Canada Geese. It is a great setting for this story and Harter depicts it perfectly.
I also loved the continuous references to Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I’m a big fan of poetry, and particularly Emily Dickinson. It is used fittingly throughout the novel and plays a prominent role in the final chapter.
I thoroughly enjoyed Fitful Head. CJ Harter is a truly gifted writer, and lovely lady too. I have loved both of her books for very different reasons, but both have kept me gripped, mainly with fear, throughout. The ending is exactly right and I have no doubt that anyone who picks this book up will have a brilliantly chilling but enjoyable reading experience. I cannot recommend this book enough, whether you are a fan of ghost stories or not.