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The Crack Magazine

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The Borrowed Hills by Scott Preston

Oftentimes, thrillers that pile up the bodies and revel in rug-pulling twists can leave me cold. They’re usually overly generic and populated by characters that, if they turned sideways, would be more or less invisible. Conversely, novels about, say sheep farming, can, in the right hands, have me eagerly thumbing the pages, eager to see where the curious tale is going to take me next. One such curious tale is ‘The Borrowed Hills’. It begins in the early part of the twenty-first century. The country is beset by foot-and-mouth and black smoke fills the air as livestock is killed and burned. In Cumbria, Steve Elliman and William Herne are two neighbouring farmers looking to join forces to see if they can revive their fortunes after the outbreak. Steve – the younger man – has a mustn’t grumble attitude to life (“Found a pack of Fishermen’s Friends in the glovebox. Had worse meals.”), while William knows how to work a scam just as much as he can work the land. A plan for a spot of sheep-rustling is hatched, which sees the pair having to rely on the help of outsiders. This, naturally, brings its own problems. Another possible point of conflict is Steve’s growing fascination with William’s wife. ‘The Borrowed Hills’ is Scott Preston’s first novel, and it’s a remarkably assured debut. His depictions of the Cumbrian environs are incredibly evocative and the perfect backdrop to a story that plays out like a modern day western. Nature, here, is red in tooth and claw, and that applies just as much to the men as to the livestock they tend. RM

Published by John Murray