A haunted woods, an old witch and the death of several children over a century and a half—Irwin writes a cautionary fairy tale but sets it in contemporary Australia.
Life seems good to Nicholas Close, for he and his wife Cate are very much in love and refurbishing an apartment in London. But one fateful afternoon Cate has a freak accident at home—she falls and dies. Mourning her loss deeply, Nicholas returns to the place where he grew up, in Tallong, a suburb of Brisbane. It turns out that during his childhood there had been the mysterious disappearance and murder of Tristram Boye, a friend of his, and now, on his return, other unnatural things start to happen—a child goes missing, for example, and the brother of his childhood friend shows up on Nicholas’s porch and commits suicide. Not only that, but Nicholas is now literally haunted by ghosts—he becomes able to see people dying. There’s also something uncanny in one of the stores that during Nicholas’s childhood had been run by a creepy old woman. Now Rowena Quill, enigmatic and extremely attractive, runs a health-food store in the same building…but somehow she looks hauntingly familiar. In addition, the woods near this store have long had a spooky and sinister reputation, going back at least till the time when Tristram’s body was discovered. Nicholas starts to poke around in the woods and makes some startling discoveries, some involving spiders the size of small dogs and others involving ritual child-killing to extend the age of a witch. As Nicholas tries to make sense of all this, others inevitably get involved, including his sister, a couple of Anglican clerics, a ten year old who could be the next victim and The Green Man, a menacing pagan deity.
Although Irwin packs his debut novel with fairy-tale and horror-story motifs, the results are lamentably tame.