The main character in the book, Martin Lunsford, is grieving. He is numb as he returns from hospital in Crosschester to Oak Cottage, the home he shared with his wife Chloé. But life refuses to leave him alone.
His is a story of revival, whether he likes it or not. The landscape of his childhood in the village of Shalford won’t let him sink more deeply into loss. If only he could go back outside to inhabit the delicious, bloody legends that thrilled him, then hope can start.
To the east of the cottage stood St Eades Church as it had done for a thousand years or more in one form of another. Beyond that was the relative poverty and cheap housing of the Churchfields housing estate, a place that the nicer people of Shalford avoided talking about let alone visiting.
To the west was Hunters Wood, a black and brown, dark green and orange, untidy, oversized copse that was home to badgers, owls and rats. It was also home to the stories that the local kids used to pass down to each other for thrills and dares.
Before it was called The Hunters Wood it was “The Hunters Forest”, a vast and favourite royal chase for Saxon higher-ups and their hangers–on. Back then the river Icene flowed through the forest. It was in full, vigorous flow, straight as common sense, deep enough to be the keeper of secrets. It was the colour of Citrine or the colour of nothing depending on the run-off from Mizmazz Hill after a heavy rain.
Legend had it that a massive, yellow and white fish lived in a pool in the Icene back then. Huge, vicious and as ancient as the landscape. A Pike, an animal named after a simple, brutal and effective weapon. It was as old as the water. It was yellow like sickness, mottled like a slug, white like death. It could change instantly to soul black to hide in the depths.
Its teeth were honed by taking the arms and legs from children who dived into its pool, or swam through the reeds and water weeds that filled the river in the summer. No one kept count on the number of children that the fish, known as ‘Ancasta’, had maimed and then consumed over the centuries. Of course, no one had even got close to catching it although many people had claimed to have had epics fights before Ancasta bit the line and disappeared. All of this held true in Lunsford’s childhood. By that time the dark pool was outside Hunters Forest, which had contracted due to what were generally referred to as “Works”. By 1934 due to the canal and railway Ancasta’s dark pool was now on its border.
As a child living in Churchfields in the 1930s Lunsford knew all about the legendary pike, every single possible detail no matter how gruesome was part of the kids’ language. The bottomless pool was where the brave and the stupid dived.