The Woman in Silk, By R J Gadney


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The Independent Culture

Afghanistan. Captain Hal Stirling is dealing as best he can with day-to-day fear as he defuses bombs left by the insurgents to kill British troops.

In R J Gadney's The Woman in Silk, we share the quotidian terror of soldiers, delivered with the kind of assurance that this author demonstrates when using his "Reg Gadney" moniker for other publishers. A gruesome roadside bomb incident brings Stirling's military career to an abrupt halt, and he is sent back to England, a physical and psychological casualty.

It's at this point that the novel shifts gear into something very different. Its reader may have gleaned a clue from the opening Edgar Allan Poe quotation: "I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect – in terror." It is the latter quality that this book will trade in, as a manifestation of (possible) supernatural dread rather than real-life carnage.

Back home, Stirling retires to his ancestral seat on the Scottish Borders, hoping that a cloistered existence in this Gothic pile will restore his equilibrium. His mother, steeped in spiritualist beliefs, has died and been buried with uncommon haste. The local community is close-mouthed, and Stirling finds himself in thrall to his late mother's two strange nurses, a mother and daughter. The three are soon engaged in a power struggle straight out of Pinter or Genet.

So far, so absorbing. Then Gadney gets down to the real business at hand. In the middle of a harsh winter, Stirling begins to encounter horrific visitations. Are the hideous ghosts a by-product of his medication? Or is somebody attempting to tear apart his fragile sanity?

A talent for evoking locale has long been one that Gadney could boast. And he has shown a predilection for radical shifts of genre. Lately, it would appear that he has been looking at the revival of the classic English ghost story and thought, "There's a genre I could tackle." The Woman in Silk is effectively unsettling, though caveats should be registered: the damaged hero is cut from a familiar cloth. But Gadney has added a new string to his already handsomely strung bow.