Category Archives: Quilford, Sally

Reviews of 'The Dark Marshes' and 'The Secret of Lakeham Abbey', both by Sally Quilford

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey (cover)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!)

Review of 'The Steps of the Priory' by Sally Quilford

Available from Amazon, for 97p.  As far as I can work out, it is only available in e-book format.

I downloaded ‘The Steps of the Priory’, the first book in Sally Quilford’s Harcourt Saga, on to my Kindle because I’ve always enjoyed Sally’s competition page in ‘Writers Forum’, which is always a mixture of well-honed experience and common sense.   I also follow her blog (as you will see from the list to the left).  However, I must point out that I don’t know Sally, either face-to-face or ‘remotely’.

It is now several days since I finished the book.  The reason I haven’t written the review earlier is that I needed time to consider what to say, and this prompted me, in turn, to consider how I should review all books on this writing blog. I came to the conclusion that I should do so, not as a reader, but as a writer trying to learn as much as possible about the writer’s craft.

‘The Steps of the Priory’ was aptly named, because it opened with two teenagers placing an unborn baby on the steps of the big house (‘The Priory’) belonging to the local factory owners.   Obviously, the baby cast a shadow over the rest of the book, even though the reader knew who he was from 21%.  (We Kindle-rs have come to think of books in percentages, not pages!)  However, he figured in a totally unexpected twist at the end.

The book was written with a broad canvas worthy of Dickens, with more characters and povs than I could count, ranging across the wealthy Harcourt family, workers and their families and people who had moved away from the area.  It also written over a huge timeframe,  from 1917 to 1948, during which a whole generation was born and grew up.  Maybe so much movement over time disconcerted me because, several nights running, this story kept me awake, the various characters and the plot running over and over in my mind.

I was impressed with Sally’s ability to move so slickly from one moment in time to another, a few years passing in a sentence, without the dreaded asterisks or anything clunky.   She enabled the reader to anchor herself in time with passing references to the General Strike, the Blitz, Colditz and concentration camps and ration-books, but nothing in detail because this was nothing at all like historical fiction.

This was a story about people, and only people, as befits Chick Lit.  The character who interested me most was ‘Jack’, the baby left on the Priory steps.  Although he was a bad lot for most of the book, his struggle with his own badness made him the only character who was substantially transformed, although other characters quarreled and made up.  As Sally has written a lot of erotic novels (which I haven’t read), The Steps contained a lot of sex, all very well-written, but, unfortunately, most of it falling within a few chapters, which was off-putting.  Towards the end of the book, a ‘Harold Shipman’ lookalike character appeared, killing off his patients and asking others to lie for him – an interesting lead which, maybe, will be pursued in the next volume.

So a lot to learn here.  Having read several real chicklit books in recent months, the genre is very different to what I thought it would be.  A lot of sex… ugh!  I hate writing sex scenes.