>> Monday, January 21, 2013
War leaves no one untouched
The horrors of the Great War are not the only ghosts that haunt Helen Morrow and her late husband's somewhat reclusive cousin, Paul. Unquiet spirits from another time and another conflict touch them.
A coded diary gives them clues to the mysterious disappearance of Paul's great-grandmother in 1812, and the desperate voice of a young woman reaches out to them from the pages. Together Helen and Paul must search for answers, not only for the old mystery, but also the circumstances surrounding the death of Helen's husband at Passchandaele in 1917.
As the mysteries entwine, their relationship is bound by the search for truth, in the present and the past.
It's a few years after the end of WWI, and Helen Morrow has just arrived in England from her native Australia. She and her daughter are to spend some time with her late husband's aristocratic family. Charlie left to join his cousin, Paul, in his regiment when Helen was in the very early stages of her pregnancy, and died before he could see her. Since little Alice will now never know her father, Helen would like her to know her father's family.
After Charlie's death, the title and estate passed to Paul, who's now struggling both with recovering from injuries sustained in the same charge that killed Charlie and with the new responsibilities he's inherited. There's not enough money to keep the house going for very long, and the fact that he's seriously considering selling it does not help his difficult relationship with his aunt Evelyn, Charlie's mother.
For Paul, the sequels from the war are not just physical, but mental, and he's become reclusive. Helen and Alice's arrival start bringing him back to life, and he and Helen soon develop a connection. But that's not all that's going on. Paul and Helen are not just haunted by their memories, but by the Hall's ghosts. Paul has long been aware of them, but with Helen's arrival, their actions become more urgent and purposeful. It becomes clear that there's a secret from 100 years earlier, and Helen and Paul join forces to discover it.
The concept of this book is right up my street. The period is underused and one I find fascinating, and Stuart does make the time and place come alive. I also love plots where the main characters work together to solve a mystery from the past, especially if there are some creepy ghosts involved (I blame this on my love for Barbara Michaels and my obsession with finding more books like hers, now that she hasn't written one for years). I even liked the characters and was interested in their issues.
Other than a particular development near the end, where the romance goes in a tedious and pointless direction right before the HEA (they act like idiots for a little while, and then change their minds with no angst or consequences), there's really nothing wrong with the book. I liked it well enough. It's just that it's all a bit... thin, I guess. The romance, the old family mystery, the mystery of how exactly Charlie died, it's all explored in a way that felt somewhat shallow to me. There's quite a lot here that should have been very traumatic, but it never felt that way. We were just skimming over the surface.
I felt oddly disengaged from it all. Not quite bored, but close. It was the sort of book where I didn't feel any urgency to pick it up when I'd put it down, but was happy enough to keep reading. It was the emotional connection that I missed.
MY GRADE: A C+.