The Old Religion by Martyn Waites

Strange marketing…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Tom Kilgannon has come to the run-down Cornish town of St Petroc to hide. That’s not his real name – he has taken on a new identity and it’s quickly clear that he’s in some kind of witness protection scheme or similar. Lila is a young girl living in a surfer commune on the edge of town – a surfer commune that is run more like a cult, with the rather nasty Noah at its head. As the book begins, Lila has been instrumental in abducting a young man on Noah’s instructions, and now she’s afraid of the consequences. When Tom and Lila meet, their lives quickly become mixed up with each other, and each puts the other in even greater danger. In the meantime, the mysterious Morrigan seems to hold an almost occult power over the townspeople, all in the name of the Old Religion…

This book is billed as being for fans of Peter May. I wonder why? I don’t remember Peter May ever writing anything with an occult storyline, nor using so much foul language including repeated use of the “c”-word, nor being unable to determine when to use “who” and “whom” correctly, nor filling his books with repeated episodes of violence, including rape, every few pages. Odd! Had I been trying to attract people who might enjoy this, I’d have been more inclined to mention Mo Hayder, or one of the other authors who specialise in violence and nastiness. There’s a market out there for this kind of book undoubtedly, but I’m not sure Peter May fans would be a big part of that market. This one sure isn’t, anyway.

It’s well written, apart from the too frequent grammatical errors, but I was reading an ARC so perhaps they’ll be sorted before the final version is printed. The characterisation is very good, especially of Lila. She left home young, and has no-one to look out for her. Having drifted into a bad situation she’s now trying to find a way out, and Waites does a good job of portraying her as a mix of vulnerability and strength. Tom is also done reasonably well, though with more of the stereotypical elements of the routine thriller hero – a troubled past, in danger in the present, well able to handle himself physically, but with a complete inability to fend off the women who find him irresistible. Uh-huh, well, not all women, obviously.

But everyone is unlikeable, even Lila, whom (or perhaps in the spirit of the book, I should say who) I really wanted to like. She’s quite willing to be just as horrible to everyone around her as they are to her – credible, undoubtedly, given her background, but it meant my sympathy for her situation wore off after a bit. Apart from Tom, all the men are drug-pushers or losers, violent and cruel, or occasionally weak and pathetic, and potential or actual rapists. There are very few women in it, at least up to the point where I abandoned it – around the 60% mark, and other than Lila they don’t play a significant role. I flicked ahead to the end and got the impression that may change later in the book.

Martyn Waites

At that 60% mark the three stories were still trailing along without us being any closer to finding out how they were connected – Tom’s past, the young man’s abduction, the mysterious Morrigan – with Lila providing some kind of vague link. I admit I was bored waiting, but it was really the constant episodes of violence that annoyed me – not in a squeamish way, they’re not overly graphic, but just because it all became repetitive and made the tone unrelentingly miserable. I prefer even crime novels to have some light and shade in them.

Despite abandoning it, I’m giving the book three stars. It’s not to my taste but I think it’s pretty well done for all that, and I’m sure people who like this sort of thing will enjoy it. In fact, it’s considerably better than the one Mo Hayder book through which I had the misfortune to wade. But as for Peter May fans, well, I’d suggest we all sit back and wait for the next Peter May book instead. Why do publishers do that?

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Zaffre, via Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

56 thoughts on “The Old Religion by Martyn Waites

  1. Isn’t it amazing that, despite a vast wealth of violence and swearing, a book can sound so dull? Seems that all the usual tropes are present and I’m sure it is well written but, gosh, these troubled-past-dangerous-present types really need a fresh twist these days. That said, I love the author photo and Waites looks like the sort of chap I’d like to meet for a drink, as long as he doesn’t bang on about rape and violence all the time 😉

    • Haha – I know! I’m afraid all the violence and swearing in the world eventually couldn’t disguise the fact that the story seemed to be going nowhere – slowly! Totally agree about the pic – and he just doesn’t look at all as if this is the kind of book he’d write, does he? I wonder if it’s like owners and dogs – that authors eventually get to look like their books. Ms Christie most certainly looks not unlike Miss Marple (and if she had grown a moustache, who knows? She could possibly have done a good Poirot impersonation too…)

      • If he ever goes the other way and his books become more in line with his looks, I’ll definitely read them.
        Very good point about Christie – she could have been a great gender-fluid (!!) Poirot.

  2. I got interested, FictionFan, when you mentioned the setting. And that does appeal. But the rest? Violence for its own sake is not interesting to me at all. And even if the characters are well-enough drawn, if I don’t care about them, I’m not likely to finish the book. Nope. ‘Fraid this one’s not for me. And it doesn’t sound at all like Peter May! Your review, though, is excellent as ever.

  3. Yikes! As others have said, I’m also not into stories with gratuitous violence. This doesn’t sound like anything I would read (though as Margot said, the setting is a draw).

    • Even though the violence (and rapes) weren’t shown graphically, I still got tired of them. I want my crime to be in the form of a mystery rather than a depiction of constant brutality… and it’s kinda put me off Cornwall… 😉

  4. ….. to sell books, of course. But haven’t they ever heard of repeat sales, or building a fan base? I really think authors ought to have some control over the use of their names to sell other authors’ (usually inferior) books. I almost never read anything that says it is “for fans of” – but I quite often go and read something by the author whose name is being taken in vain!

    • Yep, that’s what I feel. This is the first book I’ve read from that particular publisher and since I’ll now no longer trust their marketing, it may well also be the last. And I was thinking exactly that about Peter May and all the other great writers who’re used in this way – they should really copyright their names or something…

  5. For Peter May fans, right? I see no character that compares with ‘Fin’ – which would be helpful. Maybe it was the setting – Cornwall – but that’s not Lewis. Does it have a lot of setting description? I think I’m OK to skip this one. I actually did read at least one book by Mo Hayder, but I don’t remember much about it. I own several of her books. I ought to think about whether I’m ever going to read them or not.

    • I think the setting was maybe the deciding factor for me. It was Cornwall but a sort of dingy and depressed bit, off the tourist trail. So I was expecting lots of lovely description and instead got grim and gritty. Oh well! I only read one Mo Hayder and hated it. It had everything from descriptions of rotting corpses to a naked old woman being tortured, and a piece of totally unnecessary and nasty animal cruelty. I swore I’d never read another. Actually I’ve been a little unfair to this book, because it’s not nearly as nasty and tasteless as I found Hayder’s, despite the violence…

  6. Not for me, FF. Why, just reading through your review, I could feel my eyes grow heavy and my head nod … oops, where was I? Oh dear, another abandoned novel. Sad, but you spent more time wading through it than I would have!

    • I loved the title too – and the cover, and the blurb! But unfortunately it just wasn’t my kind of thing – I don’t want cosy all the time, but I don’t want things that are too grim either. Picky, that’s me! 😉

  7. Definitely not for me. I don’t have much patience for books with an excessive amount of swearing and violence – and as for the who/whom thing, I think once you start to notice something like that it can become very distracting!

    • I’m pretty sure that I only start noticing grammar errors and suchlike when the book isn’t holding my interest. And I suspect that might be true for things like swearing too – sometimes it seems to stand out more than others, and the use of the ‘c’-word inevitably puts me right off…

    • Haha – it’s not often I manage to put someone off two authors in one post! I’m feeling rather proud… 😉 Seriously, though, I really disliked Mo Hayder’s book – it left me with a real bad taste.

  8. “everyone is unlikeable” Those three words kills this for me even more than the incessant violence. I gotta have at least one likeable character (same with TV sitcoms … don’t get me started … and as for Wuthering Heights … pah! … rant, rant, rant, rant…………)

    • I really need to like someone too, or at least to care what happens to them. Each time one of these got beaten up I kinda felt, oh, well, s/he deserved it! My rant would be about Emma – I’ve tried to love her, but I’ve failed…

  9. Cornwall you said… my antennae went up…. and slumped dismally very quickly. You have done a very good job of helping me to avoid picking this one up by accident 😱 Plenty of others to choose from when I need a Cornish fix 😊

    • I know – I was so looking forward to a little break in lovely Cornwall too, but he seemed to have picked the horriblest bit (it’s a word, OK?) and put all the horriblest people there. Do Cornish people really practice black magic rituals on summer nights? 😉

  10. Ugh, I hate it when books are described as being like another author’s work. Even worse is when someone writes something hipsterish, like “if David Foster Wallace and Emily Bronte, you’d get the work of [insert author of the book].” I’m always disappointed–the book is never like what the other author wrote, and if it is, the new book looks like a copycat job.

    Excessive violence is a juvenile mistake, in my book. Young people often feel emotions intensely, so to convince everyone of what they’re feeling, they go to the extreme. Horrible violence is extreme.

    • Haha – yes, I’ve seen a few of those odd combinations of authors too. I know it’s usually the publisher who does it, but if I was an author I don’t know that I’d find it particularly complimentary to be marketed as being like a knock-off of some better known author.

      The more I read of classics, crime or fiction, the more I realise just how graphic contemporary writing has become. Have authors lost the skill to be oblique? Or do they think readers have lost the skill to read between the lines? I find the old “less is more” adage feels truer all the time…

      • I think people think that older books don’t have any violence, but I certainly remember The Lodger having some grody parts about a museum that kept murder weapons and casts of hanged criminals’ heads.

        • Yeah, but they don’t usually describe things in all their gory detail. I’m reading one at the moment – and it’s at the milder end of crime fiction – but I’ve had to attend the autopsy of a young boy and see all his organs being sliced up and weighed… ugh! You’d never have had that in a book before about 1990, but now it seems to be compulsory…

  11. I echo GTL-Ugh!!! I hate extreme, repetitive violence, and the over-usage of cuss words in books, it’s so unnecessary! yes, people swear in real life, but I don’t have to read about it too!

  12. Well, this one doesn’t sound like it would be anywhere near my cup of tea. A little bit of blue language goes a long way, and I always suspect a writer who uses lots of expletives. As if they couldn’t be bothered to produce an effect more creatively. I attribute it to laziness.

    • I do get fed up with the casual swearing in so much contemporary crime – it serves no purpose and I agree, sheer laziness. Having been reading a lot of classic crime recently has reminded me how unnecessary both strong language and graphic violence really are in telling a hard-hitting story…

  13. Definitely not for me. Also, why do people in fictional witness protection go to small communities? Surely it’s easier to hide in a big city? If I’m ever on witness protection (which as I’m a bookkeeper for an organised crime syndicate is highly likely) and they try and put me in a remote rural setting, I’m insisting on moving to Aberdeen 😀

  14. FF, I actually really liked the sound of this setting and situation, but you lost me at repetitive and frequent violence, rape and foul language; especially the ‘c-word’ I hate the ‘c-word’!!

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