I was born in the late ‘80s and grew up during the ‘90s so like many people I have a fond nostalgia for the time period. Or at least for the media that came out of it, not the fashion trends. They can stay there. Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough had (say it with me now) been on my to-read list for a while. I read it a few months ago and was struck by how similar it felt to movies like The Goonies, I.T. (1990), and Stand by Me. Long Lankin takes place during the 1950s/60s (a definite time is never specified) and tells the story of Cora and Mimi Drumm (11 and 4, respectively) who are sent to live with their great aunt Ida, who doesn’t seem to want them there, on her estate in the English countryside. Cora learns that Ida’s attitude is because children have a habit of disappearing from the house and she hears whispers of a spirit by the name of Long Lankin. When Cora learns that Lankin has targeted her sister, she and her new friend Roger, work to figure out who Lankin is and how to stop him. The second book, The Mark of Cain, takes place four years later when Aphra, a witch connected to Lankin by history, returns to finish the job he started.
Both books have an eerie dread that pervades them as Cora and Roger learn more and more about the past. But there’s also the occasional spot of humor. Roger’s large family might be one of my favorite families in literature. Their interactions and dialogue are some of the most realistic I’ve ever read. But I think my favorite thing about these books is how sympathetic Barraclough makes the villains. Even though both Lankin and Aphra are, let’s not mince words, child murderers, Barraclough makes a strong case that they’re both deserving of the reader’s pity. She does a good job in the first book as we learn Lankin’s history, but outdoes herself in the second. Even as (spoiler alert) Aphra is defeated, her last thoughts will pierce your heart. If anything, the popularity of the Netflix show Stranger Things has shown that there’s still an audience for this type of kid-driven, supernatural story. I would heartily recommend these books to fans of the show. It’s a wonderful book to have for the upcoming Halloween season.