MINM Book Review: The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

Are you looking for a crime novel that is devilishly dark, brooding, and gothic, tinged with horror and more than a little of the supernatural, with an antagonist who employs a most ghoulish method of dispatching victims? Then curl up in your favorite reading chair with your preferred, piping hot “cuppa”, and dig into this deeply personal story by British author, Sharon Bolton. The Craftsman screams out to be read in front of a crackling fire, or during an electrical storm, with lightning flashes periodically illuminating the windows! Ms. Bolton’s latest, hauntingly atmospheric offering, the first in a new trilogy, is tailor-made for the Halloween season!

I have now read six of Ms. Bolton’s books, and I know that her opening chapters always engage readers immediately, sweeping them up into the gothically-atmospheric, entertaining, and suspenseful worlds that she creates. The Craftsman opens at a cemetery high in the “wild, windswept moors” of Lancashire county in northwest England. As it happens, Lancashire is the county where Sharon Bolton grew up. A region steeped in the lore and superstitions arising from, in particular, its seventeenth century history. The Craftsman is a book that Ms. Bolton has always wanted to write.

At the beginning of The Craftsman, in 1999, main character Florence Lovelady is a senior law enforcement officer - an Assistant Commissioner - within months of retirement. She has returned to Lancashire county with her teenage son to attend the funeral of Larry Glassbrook, formerly the town of Sabden’s funeral director, as well as its casket and coffin maker (see quote below). Thirty years earlier, when Florence was a police constable and also happened to lodge with the Glassbrook family, she helped to convict Mr. Glassbrook of the murders of three young victims.

“The words ‘coffin’ and ‘casket’ are used interchangeably, but the two are quite different. A coffin is a six- or eight-sided box that follows the contours of the body: narrow at the head, widening at the shoulders, tapering in again towards the feet. Think Dracula, rising. A casket is bigger, rectangular, usually with a large, curved lid.”

After the funeral, when she goes to see the old, detached, now-in-disrepair Glassbrook home where she once was a lodger, she discovers something that requires investigation, and that has her questioning if, indeed, the Glassbrook case is truly closed…….

Most of The Craftsman takes place in 1969, before forensic DNA analysis existed, flashing back to WPC Lovelady’s investigation of the disappearance, separately, of three young teens in the small town of Sabden, at the foot of the infamous Pendle Hill. Florence is whip-smart, conscientious, and professional, with great instincts. She is also originally from the south of England. The novel touches on themes of, not only the chauvinism and condescension that Florence faces in her predominantly male “nick” in the 1960s, but also, the distrust, whether in the seventeenth century, or in the twentieth and beyond, that societies can have of “the other”. I appreciated how Ms. Bolton demonstrated growth in the character of Florence, through Florence’s increased maturity and confidence in the 1990s sections of the novel.

While The Craftsman is more of a slow, eerie burn with a bit more exposition than some of the other Sharon Bolton books that I have read, it is a great start to a new trilogy, with numerous red herrings, and a final resolution that many will not see coming. Sharon Bolton’s The Craftsman has no shortage of macabre, sinister, and spooky details to give you a fright this Halloween season!

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton (British) book cover image.jpg

(Image of British book cover)

Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who enjoy reading British police procedurals.

  • Who appreciate crime fiction and mysteries with gothic influences.

  • Who don’t mind, or enjoy, elements of the otherworldly and supernatural in their crime fiction.

  • Who are not “faint of heart”. While The Craftsman is not gory or overly violent, it taps into the stuff of our most chilling nightmares, which some readers may find disturbing.

  • Who enjoy reading crime fiction and mysteries that have elements of the horror genre.

  • Pages: 432 (Hardcover)

  • Length: 11 hrs. 55 mins. (Audio Book)

Adaptation News!

The Craftsman trilogy has been optioned for television by Sid Gentle Films, the UK production company behind the critically acclaimed, international spy thriller series, Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer! (I binge-watched the first season of Killing Eve, and it is highly addictive!)

MINM Overall Rating for The Craftsman: 4/5 Stars

Last year, I read and loved Sharon Bolton’s previous novel, Dead Woman Walking!

You can read my “Mystery in Seconds” review here.

Which crime and mystery books are you recommending for Halloween season reading?

Mystery in Minutes would love to hear from you in the comments below!