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by Jenni Mills
Harper, May 2010
498 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0007251238

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Four hundred pages into THE BURIED CIRCLE, and you suddenly realise that not a lot has happened. But hell, who cares? Jenni Mills tells a damn good story.

With the exception of a brief trip to London, THE BURIED CIRCLE takes place in and around the stone circle at Avebury, with occasional forays for the characters to the lights of Swindon and Devizes… And this insular, suffocating landscape is what makes this book so utterly compelling.

India (blame a hippy-dippy mother who met a nasty end in Thailand for the name) Robinson returns home after surviving a helicopter crash which killed a media colleague. She's got her grandmother Frannie, who reckons she can see lights on Windmill Hill, to contend with, as well as spiritual sort of stepfather John, who seems to be shagging his way around the middle-class women of the area, and Ed, the pilot of the helicopter, who blames himself for what happened.

India's 21st century story of TV crews trying to uncover Avebury's secrets, is interspersed with Frannie's recollections of the Second World War and of the enigmatic millionaire and amateur archaeologist Alexander Keiller. Echos of the past float around and intertwine with the present day goings-on. India finds herself trying to work out who is threatening her grandmother and why Frannie is so resistant to being interviewed for the TV programme.

I suppose THE BURIED CIRCLE has very loose thriller, mystery and suspense elements. But that late-on whodunit strand feels rather too tacked on and relies on a somewhat clunking coincidence.

What Mills presents us with, though, is a rich and intense portrait of a mystical prehistoric landscape, ranging from Windmill Hill down to Avebury Trusloe where many of the original residents live in council houses, Avebury itself and its wealthy in-comers, through the stone circle and its attendant druids and hippies, across to Silbury Hill and West Kennet long barrow. And, up on the Downs, are the deserted airfields from the war, with the ghosts of the young airmen who were killed.

There's a hint of woo-woo here and there, but it never takes over the story. Mills also resists the temptation to tie up everything neatly at the end. THE BURIED CIRCLE is majestic story-telling, evoking a landscape and characters so vivid you'll be convinced you can reach out and touch them.

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2010

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