Witches in the weeds: Charles Gray’s The Herbal Detective

GrayLocal publican is annoyed because she’s not getting enough sex. Local parliamentary candidate crashes into lorry because he sees a black cat on the road. Local police officer is more distracted than he should be by the local barmaid. Local cricket team are reduced to playing the other local publican in their team even though he’s an atrocious batsman. (Or was it bowler?) Local quarry operative sits at the bar and drinks rather than hand out Conservative Party leaflets. Local Conservative Party meeting in the function room is unexpectedly interrupted by the orgasmic moans of the local barmaid, who had mistakenly drunk the doctored lapsang souchong tea that the sex-starved publican had made for her husband, the rubbish cricketer publican. Local barmaid has extended hallucinatory episode where she is flying (come in please, Erica Jong, your time is up), and also participating in a devil-worshipping coven. Local vicar is given a chicken pie that the rubbish cricketing publican doesn’t want, even though it was made by his wife, the sex-starved one who thinks that he caused the barmaid’s orgasmic moaning, and has a series of very unfortunate events in church.

Distracted by her husband’s failure to drink or eat any of her herbal remedies smuggled into wine or chicken pie, the sex-starved publican has to be shown that someone has hammered a copper nail into the base of the hazel tree in the beer garden, which explains why it’s dying. Her implausible fixation on sex, which fails this novel on the Bechdel Test, is compounded by her unaccountable and rather pathetic fear of turning forty. Clearly deranged by a lack of sex and the shock of impending old age, she is unable to make rational deductions in her daily life: heaven knows how she can continue to run a business. She has an encounter in a wood while gathering herbs for that night’s potion with the rival local GP, who doesn’t exactly object to her herbal remedies since they keep the local villagers out of his surgery. Is he the local red herring, or really the local serial murderer of Scottish witches who is carrying on the tradition of targeting women with the same surname since the seventeenth century? Does he own a black cat?

The local area is apparently the East Lothians, but no-one has a local accent. The local detective does eventually perform the role of detective by looking up records and going back to look meaningfully at scenes of crimes. But he’s not a herbalist, and the herbalist (the sex-starved one) is not a detective since she can think of nothing but sex, lack of. Thus the title of this first novel by Charles Gray is a bit of a puzzle, and the copious show-off paragraphs from the pompous narrative voice, on herbal lore and human physiology, suggest Dan Brown, which isn’t a good thing. Despite all that, and my outbursts of aggravation, this novel is very readable, it’s a lot of nonsense, and you’ll enjoy it to the end.

Charles Gray, The Herbal Detective (2015, Ringwood Publishing), 978-1-901514-26-1, £9.99


2 thoughts on “Witches in the weeds: Charles Gray’s The Herbal Detective

  1. Hi Kate – thanks for the review. As its launch I described it as a cross between a Benny Hill skit and a Brian Rix farce, with a bit of Carry on Up East Lothian thrown in. Definitely not to be taken seriously…and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Charlie.


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