A few weeks ago I was kindly sent a proof copy of Kate Riordan's The Shadow Hour to review. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately went to my local library and checked out her first novel The Girl in the Photograph.
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When Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor during the long, languid summer of 1933, she finds a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets. Sadness permeates its empty rooms and the isolated valley seems crowded with ghosts – none more alluring than Elizabeth Stanton, whose only trace remains in a few tantalizingly blurred photographs. Why will no one speak of her? What happened a generation ago to make her vanish?
As the sun beats down relentlessly, Alice becomes ever more determined to unearth the truth about the girl in the photograph – and stop her own life from becoming an eerie echo of Elizabeth's ...
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I said in my previous review that Riordan's latest novel The Shadow Hour is atmospheric, well this is even more so! More than once I regretted reading it right before I settled down to sleep. As seems to be Riordan's style there is a dual narrative split between Alice Everleigh - a young woman sent to Fiercombe Manor under the guise of a widower after an affair with a married man - and Elizabeth Stanton, a previous lady of the manor whose presence seems to haunt every aspect of Alice's time there.
The one character both narratives have in common is Edith Jelphs, once Elizabeth's ladies maid, now housekeeper and sole occupant of Fiercombe. She, along with gardener and groundsman Ruck, seem peculiarly concerned and fearful for Alice's welfare, which only to make her more curious about Elizabeth's story and the dark secrets the manor has to hide. Alice is a particularly apt name for our protagonist; like her famous namesake she is thrown into a Wonderland - a world away from the hustle and bustle of London - where every character has their secrets and a story lurks behind every door.
The intense summer heat serves to heighten the tension, and you get the distinct impression that when the storm finally breaks past and present will collide and the truth will out. Kate Riordan is a very talented writer, and I felt as if I was with Alice throughout her journey. I was beginning to wonder if poor Alice would get another love interest, she certainly deserved one, and then along comes Tom! Heir to the Fiercombe estate with a tragic past of his own he and Alice quickly bond - and I was willing from the moment he appeared that they would somehow end up together despite their very different backgrounds. The main subject of this novel, without giving too mcuh away, is the troubling attitude that men used to have towards postnatal depression and female 'hysteria'. It's stories like this that make me glad I don't live in those times! Male ownership of women is another topic touched upon, and it's odd to think that it's barely one hundred years since attitudes were so archaic.
4/5 stars: Difficult subject matter tied into a richly atmospheric narrative. Kate Riordan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors!