I love old houses and forgotten corners - there are so many stories to be told and remembered. Kate Riordan's latest book, Fiercombe Manor has one of those stories....
1933 England. Young (and naive) Alice Eveleigh has gotten herself into 'trouble' with a married man. Her mother calls upon an old friend to take Alice in until the baby is born. That friend, Mrs. Jelphs, is the housekeeper of a old manor in a forgotten corner of the Gloucestershire countryside. Mrs Jelphs and old gardener Ruck are the only two staff (and residents) of the Stanton estate.
All the elements are there for the perfect Gothic mystery - young, curious woman, old retainers, crumbling house with closed off rooms, secrets alluded to, and clues to the past. Riordan seals the deal with a delicious piece of foreshadowing.....
"When I think back to the memory, that first glimpse of Fiercombe Manor and the valley it seemed almost entombed in, I cannot recall any sense of unease......It seems amazing in light of what happened, but I can't say I felt any foreboding about the valley at all." " I could never have imagined all that would happen in those few short months and how, by the end of them, my life would be irrevocably altered forever."
Riordan's novel is told in a past and present narrative. The past is from thirty years early and is Lady Elizabeth Stanton's story. Old letters that Alice uncovers begin to fill in the past for her, but the reader is privy to more through Elizabeth's voice. I found myself reacting more to Elizabeth's timeline, caught up in the past.
"There's an atmosphere, though, as if something of what's gone before is still here, like an echo or a reflection in a dark pool."
Cue delicious tingle.....are there ghosts? Can the past reach out to the present? Is the sad history of Fiercombe Manor going to be repeated?
Riordan's setting is wonderfully drawn - I could easily imagine the uneven stone floors, the crumbling outbuildings, the gardens and the dusty rooms. Time is also well done, with the social graces and mores of both time periods captured. Riordan also explores an issue that has a foot firmly in the present. (Sorry, I'm being deliberately oblique so as not to spoil the book for future readers)
This novel is fairly lengthy at 400+ plus pages, but I enjoyed the slow unfurling of this novel. Riordan keeps the reader in the dark until the final chapters - and only then reveals the end of Elizabeth's story. Alice's story has a fairytale ending, perfect for this tale. (I have a 'thing' for covers. I loved this one - I wanted to go exploring myself!)
Fiercombe Manor is best read in a comfy armchair within a lamp's circle of light with the wind whistling outside at night. Oh, and a pot of tea. Read an excerpt of Fiercombe Manor. Fans of Kate Morton would enjoy this book.
"Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London. She is also the author of Birdcage Walk and is already at work on her third novel. Born in London, she now lives in the Gloucestershire countryside." You can find Kate Riordan on her website and connect with her on Twitter.