The Moorstone Sickness
Bernard Taylor | St. Martin’s Press | 1982 | 161 pages
The latent evil lurking below the veneer of peaceful, English village life ensnares a young London couple seeking escape from a recent family tragedy.
After the accidental death of their young son, Hal and Rowan Graham decide to leave the painful memories of their London flat behind, and start over in Moorstone, a remote village in the English countryside. Their new life journey has an inauspicious start, when Hal witnesses the shocking suicide of an elderly village resident while the couple is on route to their new home.
While the slow pace of life in Moorstone instantly enchants Rowan, Hal grows increasingly troubled by a strange undercurrent he perceives in the village. Many of the newcomers exhibit a startling change in character after arriving, seemingly as a result of the attention of influential patrons. These same patrons have an alarming propensity to end up in the local madhouse, which has an intake rate that far exceeds that expected of the tiny populace.
And then there is the well-worn altar stone on top of the hill.
Taking cues from The Wicker Man and The Stepford Wives, Bernard Taylor’s foray into rural horror mines the paranoia and mistrust towards country-folk, whose proximity to the land and tradition precludes their ability to fully escape from the heavy pull of ancient practices and beliefs. Of course, the Graham’s fear is fully justifiable, although Rowan’s late realization drives a wedge into their marriage—and threatens their survival.
The deliciously creepy atmosphere and corresponding anticipation of the inevitable terror to come, however familiar, sustain the entire breadth of the narrative, which comes to a rapid close once the village secrets are revealed. Hal and Rowan’s gardener and housekeeper—collecting nail clippings and leftover hair from the barbershop—are plotting something, but the question of trust lingers around the others in the village. Although the Graham’s marital strife takes center stage, the encroaching question of the villager’s motives builds an atmosphere of suspicion akin to a rural version of Rosemary’s Baby.
The housekeeper’s prepared lunches even evoke Minnie Castevet’s chocolate mousse, only lacking the under-taste.
The slow-burn suspense grows as the Grahams attempt to pull their new life together, with the nearly certain prospect of a sinister agenda at work against them. Is Rowan’s new best friend, Allison, a young woman waiting for her fiancé to return and take her away from the village, trustworthy? Or, how about the friendly doctor, whose chance encounter brought the couple to Moorstone in the first place?
The resultant downbeat ending keeps in tune with the overall mood, perfectly reflecting Hal and Rowan’s passive bewilderment to their mortally dangerous circumstances.