You may recall, Dear Reader, that some time ago, author Sally Quilford made a guest appearance on this blog. At that time, I hadn’t read ‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey’ (the book she was promoting) or its prequel ‘The Dark Marshes’, so, now I have read them, I’m reviewing both, in this post. I always prefer to read books in order, so I tackled ‘The Dark Marshes’ first.
These two novels are the start of a mini-series, concerning the Marsh families and Lakeham families, although the action in ‘The Secret’ occurred approximately a hundred years after ‘The Dark Marshes’, so no characters appeared in both. I would’ve been quite OK reading them in the wrong order, as there was very little reference to ‘The Dark Marshes’ in ‘The Secret’, except a garbled, rumour-based version, which readers of the previous book would know to be incorrect. I think the point that Sally was trying to make was that ‘mud sticks’ and nobody’s interested in the truth, especially if it’s less sensational. If I have to choose a genre for these two books, I would go for historical crime, because the action in both takes place over fifty years ago and both have a crime theme, particularly ‘The Secret’, which is Agatha Christie-like, in that everybody gathers together at the end while the detective evaluates who did what. However, only a few references are made to historical events. Both novels are written as a series of testimonies, written by characters stating their different points of view, resembling letter or diary format, but not quite.
‘The Dark Marshes’ concerns Henrietta (Hetty) Marsh who is much sinned against, by almost everyone else, yet remains sweet and gentle in an authentic Victorian way, inviting to tea her two aunts, who have plotted against her for years, because they might be lonely. Some of the most intriguing passages are from the testimonies of the aunts, who use Capital Letters quite Randomly and display every Small-minded Prejudice of their own time, and those before and after. The plot is complex and involves many different characters, but Sally holds it all together in her usual adroit fashion.
‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey’ has a tighter plot and shorter timeframe. The protagonist – the detective – is fourteen year old, wheelchair bound, Percy, who seems to have swallowed a thesaurus (lexicon, onomasticon). Generous, vulnerable and tenacious, he is determined to clear the name of housekeeper, Anne Pargeter, who has been convicted on two counts of murder and, moreover, is pleading guilty. He is a delight to read about. Some of the most emotive passages come from letters from Anne herself, however, resigned, composed but fearful. Both Percy and Anne belong to their own era, immediately post WW2, in that they are stoical and plucky, not sorry for themselves or introspective.
Here are the links to ‘The Dark Marshes‘ and ‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey‘. Both are Amazon links, which goes against the grain with me, but, I understand that ‘The Dark Marshes’ was self-published through one of the Amazon self-publishing arms, and the website of Crooked Cat (who published ‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey’) is being refurbished at present. (Sally must be furious!)