Insomnia is never welcome but I had good company on my sleepless nights in the form of Jessica Grace Coleman’s debut novel The Former World.
In fact, the first book in the Little Forest series gripped me so much that it kept me awake and turning the pages, wanting to know what was going to happen to heroine Beth Powers next.
When the book opens, she has just turned 21 and is desperate to leave her small village, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. After a colleague is found dead and her lifelong best friend unexpectedly cuts her off, Beth finds her usually predictable life turned upside down.
As she delves deeper into the village’s sinister secrets alongside loyal ally Will and enigmatic stranger Connor, the plot moves effortlessly between murder-mystery and paranormal suspense without ever missing a step. A creepy scene set in a cinema and its dramatic aftermath are so chilling that I almost get goose pimples just thinking about them.
From the first page the characters are so well-written that you feel you know them. And the dialogue, which is deceptively hard to write and often a clunky let down in early novels, is natural and believable throughout.
For local readers, there is the added intrigue of spotting the Staffordshire connections, as the village of Little Forest is loosely based on Jessica’s upbringing in Little Heywood. Beth’s friend Will Wolseley, for example, owes his name to nearby Wolseley Bridge, and local band Poison Prescription are surely inspired by the notorious Rugeley poisoner Dr William Palmer. Shugborough Hall also makes an appearance in the novel as Chillingsley Hall, scene of a pivotal night in the Little Forest calendar.
While many loose ends are tied up in the novel, there remains plenty to wonder about. Why was Detective Chief Inspector Rick Wood roaming the woods in the early morning? What will Beth learn next about her family? And what other secrets is the village concealing?
I’m just glad that there are two sequels already available – and that Jessica has plans for a total of eight Little Forest books. It’s surely just a matter of time before this self-published series is picked up by a big publisher, so get in there early and spread the word. I for one can’t wait to find out what Beth Powers does next.
* The three Little Forest novels are currently available for just £1 each on Amazon Kindle, and are also availabale in paperback. See the Jessica Grace Coleman author page on Amazon for more information.