A school trip to Eyam, the 17th-century plague-stricken village which sealed itself off to prevent the spread of the disease, should have had all the ingredients to fascinate Year 8. But Seth’s rebellious twin, Kim, and her partner-in-mischief, Wes, are after more material kicks when they spot coins at the bottom of Mompesson’s Well. Tradition has it that coins were left at the safe limits of the village in payment for food – thrown in the well for cleansing or left in the hollow of the Boundary Stone at the other end of the village, doused in vinegar.
When Wes plunges his hand into the well, he scoops up a small handful of modern change, together with three silver coins marked 1646 and a mysteriously inscribed lead rectangle. The latter turns out to be a lover’s memorial to his fiancée who has perished in the plague. It becomes the catalyst for a series of disturbing events, as Wes ignores an antique dealer’s advice to return the lead to its rightful place – instead heedlessly throwing it in a pond.
Shortly afterwards, Wes and Kim commit two more casual thefts, stealing first money intended for charity from a shopping-mall fountain and then a second piece of inscribed metal from a vandalised exhibit box on their next school trip to a Roman site. Their history teacher translates the Latin words: a particularly virulent Roman curse. All the pieces are in place for a gothic tale and when Kim and Wes succumb to a mysterious illness, it comes as no great surprise. The interest of the tale must then lie in Seth’s desperate attempts to save his sister and friend. Supernatural visitations from the Eyam past ratchet up the tension.
Classically, Seth must undertake a heroic journey against time and the unforgiving elements, crossing the Derbyshire Moors to Eyam, before he sets wrongs right. Rose’s excellent writing – taut, economical and evocative – successfully counters his narrative contrivance, making this historical thriller an enthralling read, while he reserves one last twist for the unwary reader.