A novelisation of the notoriously censored 1973 film, The Wicker Man
is a compulsive study of faith and temptation--a tale that, on its release, must have been entirely without precedent for its stark treatment of taboo subjects such as pagan worship, kidnap and sacrifice. Interestingly, while the film, shunted from its top billing by nervous studio bosses, came across as a simple morality tale, that of good versus evil, the novel revels in a complex ambiguity that questions the very nature of religious faith to the core, and if anything, is even more of an affront to the Christian consensus.
The plot centres on Sergeant Howie's investigation of the disappearance of a child on the remote islands off the north coast of Scotland. On the isolated isle of Summerisle he finds a society that has long turned its back on Christianity, in favour of the worship of a heathen religion devoted to the rites of fertility and the pleasures of the flesh. Howie becomes convinced that Summerisle's May Day harvest festival will culminate in a sacrifice--yet at every turn, he is confronted by temptation and perversion, an invitation that, despite his devout chastity, he struggles to resist. The workings of the alien community of Summerisle are rendered with impressive attention to detail throughout, through Sergeant Howie's naive, Puritan eye--a detail that gets more foreboding, more grisly, as the tale reaches an arcane climax. And while it's wholly predictable, The Wicker Man concludes with a sense of creeping doom, as chilling as it is inevitable. --Louis Pattison