BOOK: The Witch's Trinity, by Erika Mailman, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, price £17.99. Available now. REVIEWER: Cayte Williams
WHEN a Dominican friar arrives at the small German town of Tierkinddorf in 1507, a witch-hunt begins. Ravaged by famine, the townsfolk are desperate to find a reason for their bad fortune.
The friar whips up hatred among the church's congregation and soon Kunne, the town's geriatric herbalist, is blamed for turning milk sour and making hens barren.
She is burnt at the stake but the people still starve. So the town turns in on itself as it searches for another scapegoat.
The story is told from viewpoint of Gude, an old woman who lives with her son, her daughter-in-law, Irmeltrud, and her two grandchildren.
Irmeltrud is clearly miffed that she has to share what little food they have with an old crone. She starts a whispering campaign that has Gude locked up in the witches' tower, awaiting almost certain death.
The Witch's Trinity evokes an empty, winter landscape and shows what can happen when old grudges turn nasty with a bit of Papal intervention.
But the problem with the book is that it is told from the least interesting character's viewpoint. All Gude has to offer is flashbacks to happier times when her and Kunne romped in flower-strewn meadows.
Far more intriguing is Irmeltrud, who wrestles some furious inner demons.
When husband Jost goes on a hunting expedition, she seizes her chance to accuse Gude. But does she really just want one mouth less to feed, or is she really terrified that her mother-in-law is a witch?
Then there's the neighbour from hell, Frau Zweig, who accuses Irmeltrud herself of witchery. She's barren and seizes her chance to steal the children.
The truly wicked in this tale are the villagers, rather than the 'witches' or, indeed, the friar who, quite frankly, seems a bit thick. There are some decidedly chilly moments, particularly when Gude is visited by a witch in her dreams.
Overall, though, the book is unsophisticated in its good versus evil premise, and there's a chapter about the author's distant relative, who was accused during the American witch hunts of the 1650s, that seems quite pointless, particularly as it is less dramatic than the main narrative itself.