BOOK REVIEW / An angel on a hillside: 'The Earth Made of Glass' - Robert Edric: Picador, 14.99 pounds

THERE'S the rattle of very old bones at the heart of this tale, the rattle of skeletons disinterred; the rattle too of a rickety plot straining to bear its weight of portent. Set in 1691 on the north English moors, it carries its bleakness into the borders of Hammer Horror terrain. That figure silhouetted on the cart, as it breasts the skyline approaching the hamlet during dusk, seems like none other than Christopher Lee, perfectly cast as the Inquisitor.

Samuel Mercer, the village magistrate, tormented by the secrets and tribulations of his past, is Peter Cushing to a tee. The Earth Made of Glass explores their relationship, professional and private, touching eventually the anguish of Mercer's self-inflicted guilt. They meet in rooms, in huddled spaces, the perfect setting for introspection - sepia lit, full of conversations laced with nuance, looks and hints.

When Robert Edric leads his Inquisitor outdoors, the story grows wings (almost literally; there's an angel being carved on the blackened hillside) and flies into the realms of superstition and Gothic gloom. The Inquisitor, representing the Church Commissioners, is ostensibly here to value a plot of land on which a woman, 30 years earlier, had been burnt to death for witchcraft.

The evil energy engendered by this deed remains potently present; it is a force which infiltrates the charred landscape. Jonas Webster, the local parson, is the incubus of this force, cruel and righteous, in thrall to his vision of the angel; already 'the hillside was his altar'. His animosity towards the Inquisitor merely sharpens our curiosity and spurs the plot's momentum - as does a dig by the Inquisitor for clues among the debris of the house where the women had died.

The sombre tone is at times subverted (a welcome distraction) by a pair of Shakespearean dolts, Peg and Jaw, Webster's workhands, whose turnip-head humour finds its equally spoofish opposite in a gang of hooded women who roam the moors brandishing scythes. They read like refugees from Edric's book of freaks: In the Days of the American Museum, and as though aware of it Edric counters by writing a conscious - 'take me seriously' - literary prose:

'Vapours rose . . . and stirred the stubble smoke which still hung above blackened fields . . . Here and there a man or woman passed (the Inqusitor) in the village without speaking, their faces lowered. A word from his lips and they might turn instantly to the ash of their guilt or the salt of their remorse.'

Heady stuff, but also apt. The Inquisitor's dig has exhumed a body. Guilt and remorse have attained new heights. But just as you brace yourself for a dose of Grand Guignol, Edric astonishes us with a final, beguiling chapter that brings us back to sombre interiors, confrontation and conspiracy in a moment of revelation. It is beautifully done, snatched from the jaws of sentimentality. A reminder that Robert Edric at his best aspires to magic.

Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor