William Morrow, ISBN 978-0062077882
May 22, 2012, 464 pages.
From the publisher's description...
From Katherine Webb, the author of the acclaimed international bestseller The Legacy, comes a compelling tale of love, deception, and illusion.
A vicar with a passion for nature, the Reverend Albert Canning leads a happy existence with his naive wife, Hester, in their sleepy Berkshire village in the year 1911. But as the English summer dawns, the Canning' lives are forever changed by two new arrivals: Cat, their new maid, a disaffected, free-spirited young woman sent down from London after entanglements with the law; and Robin Durrant, a leading expert in the occult, enticed by tales of elemental beings in the water meadows nearby.
This is a book about secrets and mysteries and any manner of unseen things and I dare say there is not a character in this book that does not have a secret.
The book begins with a present day mystery. Leah Hickson, a freelance journalist, is contacted by her ex-boyfriend Ryan who is working in Belgium for the War Graves Commission, a group who is tasked with identifying the many bodies of unknown soldiers that turn up every year. But this one is particularly interesting, well preserved in a bog, and he thinks that Leah might help by finding out who he is and what is the meaning of the two carefully protected letters that the dead man was carrying. And in the process gaining an interesting story for her to write.
Her investigation takes her back to England and the small village of Cold Ash Holt and to the residents of the rectory there a 100 years ago, the Reverend Canning and his wife Hester. 1911 was a stifling hot summer, and the presence of the reverend's guest, the young, handsome Mr. Durrant, a rising star in theosophical circles, will make things all the more uncomfortable. Well, for everyone but Mr. Canning, who seems oddly taken with the young man and his rather strange ideas.
Then we have Cat, a young servant girl who was just released from prison in London and taken in as a supposed act of charity by the rectory..and perhaps because they can get away with paying her so little. What her crime was and what she suffered in prison that effected her so much is not her own secret though, one truly surprising one that is not revealed until the last pages.
And then there is the murder, of course, and where there is a murder, there is a murderer...
I really enjoyed this book for a number of reasons.
I liked how the book is set in these two time periods, the present day and a century ago, and while the historic one is perhaps the more important, both are very entertaining and weave together so well. And I must say that, especially coming off my marathon viewing of the second season of Downton Abbey, I find that period of British history, just before WWI very interesting. It was a time when the country was on the edge of great change, a breakdown of the servant class, the rise of the suffragette movement, the Great War, that would kill so many, just around the corner and all these play some part in this story.
OK, no book is perfect and yes, maybe this one dragged a bit in the last third. But it is a minor issue, because there is a lot to like about this book.
There is fraud and lust and obsession and fear and love and one tragically sad death by murder, all wrapped up in not one, but two good stories. Happily, stories that are neatly and satisfyingly tied up in the end, even if many readers might wish that things had turned out differently for at least one character. Some of the secrets may be figured out earlier in the book by the careful reader. And that is fine, because I am pretty sure there are a few you will not see coming but make perfect sense once you find them out. We will find out who that forgotten, dead soldier is and why he died with those two letters in his pocket. It is a great yarn, with some very good, very memorable characters, good and bad, and a lovely setting in the sleepy Berkshire countryside, past and present, and a good story to be told.
Recommended, for those that like a good mystery, Anglophiles, fans of pre-WWI England and anyone who just enjoys a well told story.
My thanks to William Morrow with providing a copy of this books for review.