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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 26 September 2011
This book was written in 1960 and is set in 1959, so right from the start, think along the lines of 'Rosemary's Baby' rather than 'Stephen King' when it comes to horror explicitness.

An 'old-maid' schoolteacher (all of 44 years old, but this is the sixties, girls), is sent home from her missionary school in Africa because of illness accompanied by a breakdown, and after an unhappy time at a horrid comp, lands a job as a headmistress at Walwyk village, a beautiful English community kept in rather feudal manner by a Canon Thorby.

Miss Mayfield soon begins to suspect that some of the villagers are practicing witchcraft and have a young girl, Ethel Rigby, in mind for a mysterious but ominous purpose. What can she do to protect the girl? Who will help her? Can she trust anyone?

When one of her potential allies is killed and the other frightened off, she realises how nasty things can get in lovely, secluded Walwyk, but sets out to save Ethel from a fate worse than death.

This is a subtle, eerie piece of storytelling (Peter Curtis is the pseudonym of Norah Lofts, who wrote the equally elegant, subtle and eerie 'Gad's Hall' and 'The Haunting of Gad's Hall'. This is horror from another time, where the nastiness doesn't splatter in your face or grab you in a headlock (not that there's anything wrong with more upfront horror, I love with a passion SK and all his rabid dogs and undead children), rather, it's like a hand touching you on the ankle and just when you thought you'd imagined it, grasping like a vice.

There's some annoying dialect-writing (all the natives of Walwyk say 'hev' instead of 'have', for instance), but aside from that, Curtis/Lofts hardly puts a foot wrong. It's nice to see such conscientious writing, considering some of the horrible grammar and syntax and even spelling I've seen from modern writers. There's a bit of head-hopping (going from one person's point of view to the other without separation of scene), which some people might find irritating, but it isn't intrusive and doesn't happen often.

When I first read this, horror had already moved on to the era of SK, but this story stayed with me for months. I still have my sadly abused original copy, with Joan Fontaine on the cover, as Miss Mayfield in the Hammer Film. I must say, I hate the new cover. It has nothing of the period ethos of the story; instead the illustrator has come up with that tiresomely ubiquitous 'back view of a girl with long hair in long dress' so beloved of the new girl-friendly fantasy genre.

Anyway - subtle, eerie, well-written, all good, but again, this is from a previous era of horror, and as such is pretty much a period piece, and is not likely to give anyone nightmares these days. If you like your horror resolutely modern, this may not be for you. If you can still read 'The Haunting of Hill House', 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Other' without going, 'Is that it?', then you may love 'The Witches'.
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The Witches Peter Curtis 1960 Pan Books

I have always been a great fan of horror and supernatural novels since I started reading them as a boy in the early fifties and over the years have amassed a large collection, mainly paperback copies and I am now replacing those available as e-books with Kindle Editions. This re-organisation has also given me the chance to revisit books that I have not read for a while.

Published in 1960 this novel by Nora Lofts has style and plenty of suspense and tension but has not dated well and for those who cannot remember the taste and feel of the fifties this may be somewhat dated and tame.

Oddly this is one of those rare works where the film, made by Hammer in 1967 starring Joan Fontaine and Kay Walsh was actually better than the book.

Never the less this is a solid and readable witchcraft book worthy of any collection.
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on 24 June 2013
I like all norah lofts stories, but for some people it will be very very old fashioned. If you want grit and sex don't both with this one. Very like the Wickerman with all the village in on the witchcraft. Strange ending.
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on 8 June 2015
Nice book but paper feels a bit cheap. The edition I received was slightly different to the cover shown (No 'Hammer' logo on front cover (just on the spine)). The quality of the paper is not the best. It has the look and feel of pulped paper so I'm not too sure of it's likely longevity. Otherwise, a nice addition to my collection. Superfast delivery. Ordered on Saturday 6 June (am), delivered on Sunday 7 June (pm). About 30 hours in total. Wow!
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on 28 June 2012
This is set in 1959, written in 1960. It was interesting seeing the past and past views and behaviour, and the story may have been surprising in the past, but thanks to the swinger movement and orge parties and the rise of porn and news of human trafficking (which is far, far worse than this story), this is not as shocking as it could be for the modern person, or at least not to me. I'm sure people of the past may have fainted from this but for me, I just wanted to slap them all in the face.

It also takes a very long time for any plot to evolve and shine through. I was bored at times reading this. Though it was nice to see the main character evolve, to see her go from a queit, timid woman who fit in the 40/50s to the equivalent of a modern woman of that time, though she takes her own sweet time.

Interesting to see the past, but the story is boring.
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on 17 February 2014
I enjoyed this book, but I love all Norah Lofts books. Recommended, and read it in one sitting. Well pleased
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on 3 February 2012
I bought this thinking it would be a good old fashioned horror or chiller, it probably would be better for a teenager then an adult though. It was an enjoyable read with all that said
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