"Parts of this book are so tense that I found myself hunched over it, desperate to find out what happened next, but fearful of what it might be.....a good plot with some compelling characters"
"a plot so cunning, so ruthless and so downright evil. This is a seriously scary story. Superbly paced, with firmly grounded dialogue and a believable cast of characters, this subtle page-turner lingers long in the mind"
Lancashire Evening Post
"A top notch thriller"
"Had me hooked and staying up late to finish it...A breath-taking final chapter brings everything to a head.....White continues to thrill his readers"
WHAT DO YOU SEE IN YOUR DYING MOMENTS?
Last Rites is the most Lancashire of my novels, as although it is a modern crime thriller, it deals also with events that are rooted in Lancastrian history, namely the stories and legends of the Pendle witches.
I can still remember the first time I saw Pendle Hill. I was driving to a friend's house in Sabden, a small stone and slate village in the shadow of the Hill. I had heard of the Pendle witches, so when my wife and I snaked around this barren and fog-shrouded hill along a tight country lane, the sense of menace was palpable. It was probably just my imagination, but it struck me immediately that Pendle Hill was a place not to be taken lightly.
The book Last Rites does have a more convoluted route to publication though than just a country drive around a high and spooky hill.
My first attempt at writing resulted eventually in a self-published book called Salem. It was a book I was proud of at the time, despite its numerous typos and grammatical howlers, one of the pitfalls of not allowing anyone else to read it before it was sent to the printers. A thousand copies landed on my doorstep, and for a long time most lined my loft and kepy my house snug in winter. But I didn't just sell it to friends and family and work colleagues; I sent a few to agents and publishers, and I was taken on by my agent, Sonia Land of Sheil Land Associates. Salem got me a publishing deal, in a roundabout kind of way, although it was my next story, Fallen Idols, that was taken on by my publisher as the first book.
My agent and I both thought that Salem was a good story though, and I didn't want to leave it in my loft, and so I decided to rewrite it and release it as my third book; hence Last Rites.
The story involves Jack Garrett, a local crime reporter, being asked by the parents of a missing schoolteacher, Sarah Goode, to help them to find her. There is a problem with this: the police are looking for her too, as she hasn't been seen since her boyfriend was found stabbed to death in her bed. The hunt for Sarah Goode takes Jack into the countryside around Pendle Hill as he becomes entangled with an evil killer and strange rituals that still go on in the shadow of the Hill, rituals that seem to resonate from the time of the orginal Pendle witches.
I wanted to write a modern day crime thriller but use the tales of the Pendle witches as a backdrop. The story of the Pendle witches is complicated, as in one sense it is a tale of local men and women tried and hanged at Lancaster Castle for witchcraft in the seventeeth century after confessing to witchcraft. It is also a story of two families in conflict, each headed by a strong matriarchal figure, Old Demdike and Old Chattox, who seek to blame the other for their involvement in witchcraft due to a dispute from some years before. The story of the Pendle witches began when one young woman was accused of causing the death of a passing pedlar by cursing him following an argument over the gift of some pins. This caused the young woman to blame a figure from the opposing family for involving her in witchraft, and then the fingers start pointing, and before long many members of both factions were heading to the gallows.
The real tragedy was that the young woman admitted to witchcraft because she thought it would be better to blame the death of the peddlar on witchcraft taught to her by others than her own actions. being responsible.
In another sense though, the story of the Pendle witches is a tale of politics, as King James had come to the throne, and he had a real downer on witches after he blamed a shipwreck on a witch's curse that almost cost him is life. The local aristocracy who wanted to cosy up to the king only had to root out witches to do so, so the confessions and accusations of the two families who lived around Pendle Hill found a receptive ear in the local Magistrate. It is no coincidence that Macbeth, with its villainous witches, was written just after King James came to the throne. Shakespeare played to his audience.
In researching the book, I spent a lot of time looking into the rants and ramblings of various serial killers, in an attempt to work out their reasoning and justification behind their crimes. This included reading countless times the insane thoughts of Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, in his book, The Gates of Janus. Brady's angle appears to be that we are all cowards and that serial killers are the brave ones, as they are the ones who give vent to their fantasies, unafraid of their consequences.
The comment that I found most interesting was a calculated aside in his chapter on accomplices, in that he didn't discuss his own crimes, but did comment from his own experience that accomplices, as the most-recently converted, are often the most enthusiastic. That was one in the eye for Myra.
His more recently-expressed taunt, however, is perhaps the most accurate: that we have wasted millions of pounds in keeping him alive. I wouldn't argue with that.