Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Martine Bailey’s "The Prophet"

The Prophet, Martine Bailey’s fourth novel, is a historical crime novel in which Tabitha Hart investigates a cold-blooded murder and a utopian sect in an ancient forest.

The novel follows on from events in The Almanack and also reads as a standalone mystery.

Cheshire. May Day, 1753. Tabitha De Vallory's perfect life is shaken when a girl is slaughtered beneath the Mondrem Oak on her family's forest estate. Nearby, enigmatic Baptist Gunn is convinced that a second messiah will be born, amid blood and strife, close to the oak on Midsummer's Day. Could the murder be linked to Gunn's cryptic prophecy?

As Midsummer's Day draws closer, Tabitha soon learns the destiny that threatens her and those she holds most dear...

Bailey lives in a village near Chester, England and her first novel, An Appetite for Violets, was a Booklist Top Ten Crime Debut.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of The Prophet:
My heroine Tabitha is a former London courtesan who reluctantly returned to her home village. Recently married and expecting her first child, she is a clever risk-taker. To play her I had in mind Crystal Laity’s performance as harlot Margaret Vosper in Poldark, a mix of sharp wits, charm and physical allure.

Tabitha is married to Nat De Vallory, a former hack writer and the unexpected heir to Bold Hall. Hiding his connection to the victim, he struggles with his new position. Fascinated by the local prophet he makes an ill-judged test of Gunn’s powers to foresee the future. No apologies for casting Aidan Turner (Ross Poldark) again.

Baptist Gunn is a travelling preacher – or maybe something less wholesome. Camping out in the forest, he prophecies the birth of a new messiah to take to America. Charismatic and slippery, I picture Sam Riley (Control, Maleficent) in the spellbinding role.

Tabitha’s naïve friend Jennet Saxton leads the younger generation. Only sixteen, her search for romance and fascination with Baptist Gunn lead her into danger. I’d love a young Christina Ricci, circa Sleepy Hollow to play her.

Sukey Adams is Tabitha’s wet nurse, also expecting a child. Straight-laced and brimming with superstitious advice, she offers solace to her mistress. Kerrie Hayes is my choice, after playing another servant in creepy folklore series, The Living and the Dead.

The location is Chester, a 2,000 year old walled city in England with distinctive black and white high-gabled buildings. Tabitha’s home village of Netherlea is a rural idyll around a manor house, where country customs mark the year, from the woodland revels of May-time to the candlelit revelations of All Hallows Eve.

Prophecies were once widely read and discussed – as indeed the appeal of astrologers and psychics has apparently returned in our own tumultuous times. Baptist Gunn is not based on a single person, though the 18th century witnessed many religious groups who practised spirit possession and visions. Most famously the Shakers eventually left their native England to take their ‘ecstatic’ beliefs (and minimalist furniture) to America in 1774,

In my dreamcast I’d love Ang Lee to direct. I’m thinking of the way the changing English landscape was backdrop to the emotional turmoil of Sense and Sensibility. And I’m sure the creator of The Life of Pi would do justice to the firelit sleeping prophecies, the mystical stones and barrows of the forest, and the phantom apparition that appears in Bold Hall’s ancient chapel.
Visit Martine Bailey's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: An Appetite for Violets.

My Book, The Movie: A Taste for Nightshade.

My Book, The Movie: The Almanack.

--Marshal Zeringue