I finished this a while ago & have been mulling over how I felt about it. And I realized the longer I thought, the more I appreciated the story & how it was told. If (like me) you’re a fan of the author’s Aector McAvoy series, the first thing you need to know is this is a huge departure. Don’t go in expecting thrills & chills. This is a dense & detailed historical read that takes its time.
It begins in the present as 2 elderly women sit vigil at the bedside of a dying man. We have no idea who the characters are but it’s obvious they have a long & complex history. We then go back to how it all began.
Cordelia (Cordie) is an educated woman whose husband has sent her to live in the country. She’s a fish out of water & initially dismissive of her rural neighbours. Felicity (Flick) is a wife & mother who has lived in the area all her life. They first meet in a graveyard & when lightening strikes an old mausoleum, they’re horrified to see a body come tumbling out. An ancient skeleton perhaps? Nope. There’s flesh on those bones & the snazzy suit suggests the wearer is of a more recent vintage.
What follows is the story of Cordie & Flick’s great adventure. On one level it’s a murder mystery with disturbing undertones & a slow rising tension. But it’s also the story of these 2 women & how their investigation & relationship permanently alters their lives.
Most of the book is set in a rural Scottish village in the 1960’s but it feels at least a decade earlier. The pace, descriptions of village life & frequent allusions to the war all combine to create a story that’s more in keeping with the era of golden age mysteries.
To be honest, it took me a while to settle in with this one. I think I went in with certain expectations based on Mark’s previous books. Setting the stage takes the first half. Not much happens but you become immersed in the lives of the characters & history of the area. It’s heavy on dialogue which the author delivers using local vernacular to great effect. More than anything else, that’s what helped me find the book’s rhythm & just sit back & let Cordie & Flick tell me their story.
The pace picks up for the last 20% as we begin to glimpse the big picture. War atrocities, secrets & lies with startling local connections are exposed. The village is shaken & for Cordie in particular, it’s the beginning of a new life.
After pondering it a bit, I realized what I enjoyed most was the relationship between the 2 women. It gradually evolves as they rub off on each other, both deeply affected by their shared experience. There’s a subtle power shift as they learn to appreciate their differences & the result is a long friendship based on mutual acceptance, trust & affection.
So from an initial rating of 3.5, I’m bumping it up to 4 stars. There’s a beautiful simplicity to the prose that makes the setting & characters come across as completely authentic. Kudos to the author for branching off in a new direction.