In a territory rich with spirituality, fraud and surprisingly open sexual exploitation, Samantha Hunt's Mr Splitfoot has, judging from a number of other reviews I've seen, divided opinion.
Some readers have been swept up its descriptive nature and been captivated and intrigued by the story surrounding two young orphans, while others have found the book somewhat lacking in substance. Sadly, I fit into the latter category.
The focus on the orphans, notably 'sisters' Nat and Ruth, is strong and for the most part, well written, but it does tend to ramble on unnecessarily. While living at the Love of Christ! foster home, the pair are subjected to what can only be described as modern day deprivation and abuse as they are forced to undertake gruelling tasks while living the kind of life that 19th century peasants, or the equivalent, might even have issues with - they are certainly dressed accordingly for such a time period.
The struggles of the children alone should make for rather uncomfortable reading, but I found it quite easy to get through, and that's where I think the book makes its first error. It shouldn't be easy for the mistreatment of children to be so easily overlooked and almost forgotten about (although it most certainly comes back later in the story) as I found that it was.
However, the introduction of seances and the first mention of Mr Splitfoot during one of them, together with the subsequent appearance of Mr Bell, did and does improve things. Taking them under his wing, he promises to teach them how to master their craft and the 'sisters' are often reminded and encouraged to remember that, in their (what I think is a) ploy as psychics/clairvoyants who can speak to the dearly departed, "dead people are everywhere." Meanwhile, my determination to find out exactly who Mr Bell is and what he really wants from Ruth and Nat certainly kept me turning the pages.
From there, the story gets somewhat complicated thanks to the introduction of Cora Skyes who takes on the majority of the story-telling. Her rather boring life is suddenly turned on its head by the appearance of her aunt Ruth who she hasn't seen for 14 years, and who now doesn't speak. Why? Well, I kept reading to find out that's for sure.
The journey the two, or three if you count the baby Cora's carrying, embark on is the highlight of the book and without it, the story would most certainly fall flat. Ruth is terrified, leading her niece on a journey into the seemingly unknown. As the two walk for miles and miles with no apparent destination in sight, Cora soon realizes that "it's not just the dead who haunt us", as she becomes more and more aware of Ruth's heightened emotional state; a look in her eyes often showing nothing but fear.
I honestly can't say much more without offering up serious spoilers (and I'm not that mean!). What I can say is that the last few chapters of the book in particular tie up a lot of loose ends and did answer the many questions accumulating in my head. However, with that said, I found that the book ended on a rather bland note, although it was nice to see some characters (I won't say who) seemingly find themselves some semblance of a happy ending.
is available now on Amazon and from all good bookshops.