It’s rather unusual for a main character to be killed off in the first chapter of a book, but that is the fate that befalls teenager Preston Oldcorn in Young Adult thriller, Cold Bath Street.Advertisement
Set in Preston, the book follows Oldcorn as he attempts to navigate the ensuing world of life, death and the void in between. It’s a world that is full of imagination and atmosphere.
The rules of this strange afterlife are explained with care by Preston-born author A.J. Hartley, while local legends like the Bannister Doll are neatly woven into the tale. The characters – both living and dead – are lovingly captured. Many of them are full of mysteries and secrets that are gradually revealed throughout the book.
Hartley, who grew up in Ribbleton, has talked about feeling like a ghost when he returns to his hometown, and the late 1970s Preston setting feels deeply personal, as he includes his memories of the town in those days.
The story features landmarks such as the Harris, the Blessed Sacrement Church on Farringdon Lane, and the Miley Tunnel. One character talks about a Banks family at school, and how there is a jewellers with the same name on Lune Street that her mother thinks is “the height of sophistication”. Another laments about Preston North End “languishing in the lower half of the third division”.
It’s not necessary for the reader to know the locations or understand all the local references in the book, but there are little gems waiting to be discovered by anyone familiar with Preston and its history.
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There are also moments of typically northern humour to be found within the often dark and desperate setting. When one of the older characters is asked if she’s a medium she responds by shaking her head sadly and saying, “A large love… Always ‘ave been.”
An engrossing page turner, Cold Bath Street delivers plenty of twists and turns as it builds towards the darkly gripping finale. The illustrations found throughout the book – by award-winning UCLan fine art student Janet Pickering – serve to enhance the melancholic and haunting tone of the writing.
Cold Bath Street may be a Young Adult book, but it makes a fascinating supernatural read for all ages – especially for anyone who has a connection with Preston.
You can meet A.J. Hartley on his Cold Bath Street UK tour. He’ll be appearing at Hoghton Tower on Sunday 15 July and at the Harris on Wednesday 18 July.