Author: David Pinner
Series: The Cornwall Murders #1
Publisher: Endeavour Media
First Published: 1967
Genres: Police Procedural, Thriller
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Set against an enclosed rural Cornish landscape, Ritual follows the trail of English police officer, David Hanlin, who is requested to investigate the murder of a local child. During his short stay, he is slowly subjected to a spectacle of psychological trickery, sexual seduction and ancient religious practices.
As he delves deeper into the village’s mysterious way of life he finds himself becoming embroiled and seduced into their bizarre rituals, and starts to feel almost hypnotised by the community. But when another child is murdered he knows he needs to break the spell and find the killer.
Ritual is one of those books that was truly difficult for me to categorize and sort my thoughts on. The plot was intriguing but the writing was seriously bogged down with purple prose. It was hard for me to get a feel for the tone of the novel, as the conversations between characters were theatrical and exaggerated. It was so jarring to read that I had a hard time staying invested in reading for an extended period of time.
The story follows police officer Hanlin, who has been investigating a small town that he suspects has been carrying out ritualistic murders. The town seems mundane on the surface, but the people are bizarre and uncooperative. The story switches points of view often as the town’s social order and religious beliefs come into focus.
“We villagers are much like this greenfly, Inspector. We plunder the beauty of the earth by planting, and weeding, and sweating a lot. Fortunately, some of the beauty rubs off on our hands and faces. We’re allowed to glory in it. I mean this. And the guilt you think you see is only fear that an outsider, like you, Inspector Hanlin, will destroy our peace of mind. Our secrets.”
Hanlin himself seems to be losing it, with his dialogue shifting from cool investigator to frustrated Puritan fighting his lusty instincts, to acting absolutely mad accusing everyone of everything. To say that Hanlin was an unreliable narrator is an understatement and it made following the story a bit of a headache. The book is listed as a police procedural, but Hanlin barely does any real police work, so it made me wonder where the story was going.
For those that are familiar with The Wicker Man, this is the book that the films were loosely based on. To compare the films to the source material however would be a grave mistake, as they are entirely different beasts. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the climax of the novel in a way, most of the gripes that I had with the story eventually clicked with me in an ah-ha moment, and it made me reassess the way that I felt about the story and its characters. Suddenly the nonsensical story and interactions made sense.
All in all it’s not a bad book, but it’s not a great one either. If you don’t get bogged down by the bloated writing and confusing plot then it’s an interesting read. I’m not sure if I can truly recommend it, especially for those that already love the films – they’ll likely be disappointed. If you can put the films aside however and are genuinely interested in a psychedelic murder mystery, then this may be the perfect book for you.
Warnings: violence, sex