A PhD in Paganism might sound silly, but Jess sees echoes of ancient history all over our modern world. Her own worst enemy, Jess is opinionated and touchy and impulsive. She’s also sympathetic and thoughtful and fiercely protective, but only a few get to see that side of her. She’s a misfit, and happy to be one, but Jess has a detective’s instinct that drags her into the red hot centre of the action.
HIS HONOUR JUDGE JAMES CASTLE QC (Retired)
Dealing with the children was always his wife’s province. But now dear Harriet is gone, and the Judge’s career is over, and his grown up daughter has returned to live under his roof. Curmudgeonly, reserved, it’s not easy for him to find common ground with Jess. The reader can see that they are alike, with the same flaws, but it takes time for them to realise this simple truth. In the meantime, his disapproval is a constant background hum to Jess’s investigation.
Meeting your childhood crush twenty years later can be disappointing. Rupert still has the floppy dark hair and the amused eyes, but Jess wishes he wasn’t so buttoned-up and boring. Their chemistry is apparent to everybody else, but Jess keeps her distance. Her life is complicated enough without the chaos of romance. Jess distrusts her feelings, but Rupert keeps turning up, as if he’ll break down her barriers one day.
How to sum up Mary? It’s hard to pin down Jess’s best mate, a mixed-race Dubliner whose short stature belies her martial art skills. It’s easier to say what Mary can’t turn her hand to – she’s a mechanic, a linguist, and a computer whizz, not to mention alarmingly promiscuous and a champion drinker. A woman of her word, Mary is irreverent, and a solid ally in a tight corner. Her affection for Jess is constant and unchanging, even though she doesn’t hold back with personal remarks. The contrast between her combat trousers and her pretty face confuses some men, but they are soon under her spell. They should beware; Mary moves on fast.
Newly divorced, DS Eden finds solace in his job. Strictly by the book, Eden distrusts intuition and relies on solid coppering. A man of mid-height, in middle age, with a banal haircut and a taste for drip-dry suits, Eden has hidden depths. He is honest and true and decent. Jess’s methods dismay him, but between them they make an unbeatable team.
Poor Knott. Still living at home with her demanding, vaguely ill mother, she lives for her job. In another police station, Knott would have been demoted to making tea for the bereaved long ago, but at Castle Kidbury she’s Eden’s right hand woman, and the thorn in his side. Her insight is invaluable; simply do the opposite of what Knott suggests and you’ll be fine.
A sturdy, solid Pole, Bogna is bored of the jokes Castle Kidbury locals make about her name. With her perfect, if idiosyncratic, English, she has taken charge of Jess’s childhood home, Harebell House, after the death of Jess’s mother. Changes have been made to the house – where oh where is the battered biscuit tin? – and changes have been made to the Judge, who now cycles and is denied his evening cigar. If she’s on your side, Bogna is a pussycat. If she’s not on your side, I suggest you leave.
A ball of energy, Castle Kidbury’s lady mayoress seems to believe she’s actually its queen. Smartly turned out, always in a court shoe, she stalks the lanes and byways, ensuring that “her” town is keeping up its standards. Patricia has long held a torch for Judge James Castle, and his widowhood means he is as vulnerable as a wounded gnu on the Serengeti. Smalls never hesitates to go in for the kill.
An ex-copper, Eddie doesn’t talk about his past. These days, he’s landlord of the best boozer for miles, The Royal Seven Stars on the town square. Not a lot happens without Eddie knowing about it, and he rolls his eyes at DS Eden’s slow, careful detective work. An amiable Mancunian with a dark backstory, he’s nobody’s fool.
Every town has a Squeezers. He lopes around in dirty clothes, his faithful whippet on the end of a string, sleeping God knows where, and always on the periphery of any illegal activity. Harmless, defenceless, Squeezers brings out the best and the worst in his fellow townsfolk. Some give him charity, others want him tidied away. But, like cockroaches and Cher, Squeezers isn’t going anywhere.
Pitt’s Field, a pleasant meadow on the edge of town, has been colonised by Pan and his ragbag followers. Like a cut-price Russell Brand playing at Charles Manson, Pan is lean and dark and hung about with pendants and bracelets. His (all-female) followers hang on his every word, a hotchpotch philosophy that warns of the imminent end of the world. Pan is cunning, manipulative, charismatic, and ruthless about forcing his cult to do his bidding.