Wednesday, May 13, 2009

a review of My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Sourcebooks, ISBN 978-1-4022-179-8)

Our setting this time is several centuries later than our last meeting with the work of Ms. Du Maurier, the 19th century, but on the same Cornish coast. And our narrator this time is male, twenty four year old Phillip Ashley. Orphaned as a young boy, little Phillip was taken into the care of his older cousin Ambrose and goes to live with him on Ambrose's estate. Ambrose had never married, so there was no woman of the house, no other children and after Ambrose dismisses young Phillip's nursemaid and undertakes the boy's education himself, no female influence at all in his upbringing. Not that Phillip finds any fault with that. He admires everything about Ambrose and strives to be like him, even sharing a similarity in physical appearance.
“There could not be a man more fair, more just, more lovable, more full of understanding...Although invariably courteous he was shy of women, and mistrustful too, saying they made mischief in a household...Eccentric perhaps, unorthodox- the west country has always been known for its odd characters- but despite his idiosyncratic opinions on women, and the upbringing of small boys, Ambrose was no crank. He was likes and respected by his neighbors, and loved by his tenants.”
They are content, the two bachelors, for some 20 years, young Phillip learning how to manage the estate he will one day inherit. That is until, Ambrose, then in his forties and suffering from bad rheumatism in the cold, wet winters of Cornwall, decides that he will spend some time in the warmer climate of the Mediterranean and leave the management of the estate in Phillip's capable hands. He writes and stays in touch, telling of his travels, and then, out of the blue, tells of meeting a woman, a half English, half Italian widow in Italy. They share a love of gardening and, in fact, she is a very distant relative....their 'cousin' Rachel. Before Phillip really knows what to make of this new friendship, Ambrose writes from Naples that he and Rachel are married and on their honeymoon.

Phillip is not thrilled with the news, jealous of sharing Ambrose's affection and wondering how it will upset his future, but in a matter of months things turn even worse when he receives several letters from his cousin, very different in tone from his earlier ones professing his love for Rachel. Now he claims that Rachel is trying to kill him, poison him and Phillips set out at once for Florence, where the married couple are living, to come to Ambrose's aid. But he is too late, arriving at Rachel's empty villa to find out that his cousin has died, supposedly of a brain tumor and the widow is gone.

Phillip is convinced that Rachel has killed his cousin and pictures her as an evil, scheming witch. That is until a short time later, he receives a letter from the widow that she is in England and wishes to come to the estate to return Ambrose's possessions. She arrives and is, of course, nothing as her pictured her. He begins to wonder if he could be wrong and that perhaps those letters were the result of madness brought on by Ambrose's supposed illness. She seems so charming, so beautiful, so smart and she seems to easily wins over the staff and all the neighbors. Before he known what is happening, he finds himself being rather bewitched himself by his lovely cousin Rachel. What are her intention and is she an innocent widow, or a scheming murderer...yes, that is the question, and Ms. du Maurier will keep you guessing until the very end.
And maybe even a bit longer.

One again, I have found myself quite taken with Ms. du Maurier's writing and her wonderful ability to create some excellent characters and again the setting in Cornwall creates a grand atmosphere. But this is a far different book from the last one of hers I reviewed, Frenchman's Creek. No humor here, no dashing adventure. No, this is a a real psychological thriller, darker and more sinister, certainly less clear cut. It is not so much what happens in the story that creates that sinister feeling, but the way du Maurier is able to skillfully paint the characters, especially Rachel. The story is full of questions, tossing us back and forth in our opinion of Rachel.
A taut, well, written story that will no doubt grab you attention and not let it go until the very last page. The actual, very last page. If you like mysteries and thrillers, with a well written historic setting, My Cousin Rachel will be a very entertaining read for you. Another thumbs up for this one.

Available From Amazon


  1. I am all over this one. I've been listening to another blogger go on and on and on about this author, so I know there is something to her. Excellent review, you have convinced me.

  2. what, you didn't trust my opinion? ;-)

  3. I still don't know what I think of Rachel. Was she innocent or guilty? it was a great book.

  4. I've never read any of duMaurier's work because I've always thought it was flowery romance for some reason. Thanks for setting me straight.

  5. if it were, I would not have finished them.

  6. Thanks for another great review. It makes me bummed I skipped getting these for review, so now I'm hoping to win a copy. :)


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