FIERCOMBE MANOR by Kate Riodan
Alice, a shy and inexperienced young woman working her first job in London, falls prey to a scoundrel (married, no less) and soon finds herself pregnant. It’s 1933 and this situation is simply not acceptable. To avoid the disgrace the news would bring down upon the family her mother concocts a story about tragic widowhood and makes arrangements to have Alice shipped off to an old school friend who is the housekeeper at Fiercombe Manor. The manor is in a remote area of Gloucestershire so no one need know of Alice’s unfortunate circumstance. Once the child is given up for adoption Alice can return to the loving embrace (at least that of her father – her mother is a bit of cold fish) family and her life in London.
The manor has quite a sad history and as Alice serves out her confinement of shame she begins to uncover the story of Lady Elizabeth Stanton, herself pregnant, when she was lady of the manor more than thirty years ago. With the discovery of a long forgotten photograph and a hidden diary Alice begins to piece together Elizabeth’s tragic story … and begins to believe that Elizabeth is quite possibly haunting the manor. Alice begins to fear that the same fate that befell Elizabeth’s baby might happen to hers as well.
Seamlessly told in two time lines, thirty years apart, Ms. Riordan gives the reader a many-layered story. The reader experiences what life is like for a young women living in 1930’s London and then compares that cleverly with life at a isolated, virtually unwanted and mostly forgotten manor in the country. The reader is also allowed to experience the life of the upper crust at the turn of the century through Elizabeth’s journal.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As a book read around Halloween I give it four little ghosts. Only four because of the ending – while I enjoyed the big pink bow wrapping it all up neatly – it was, even for me, a little pat. That being said this story does have a little bit of everything that, in my opinion, makes a good gothic mystery/horror. Secrets, lies, love affairs, nosey servants, hidden rooms and long forgotten personal effects all tossed together with the perfect combination of angst, spookiness, atmosphere, mystery, drama and a love match thrown in for good measure.
Interestingly, the North American book was titled “Fiercombe Manor” while in the UK it was released under the title “The Girl in the Photograph”. I'm not sure which is the title I prefer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from www.kateriordan.com)
Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist who was born in London and grew up inWarwickshire. She spent her first years in journalism as a staffer, first at The Guardian as an editorial assistant and later at Time Out London, where she went on to become deputy editor for the lifestyle section, covering everything from travel to property to beauty. After seven fantastic years of weird and wonderful assignments, she decided to go freelance in order to concentrate on writing fiction, which had for a long time been an ambition (not least when she was interviewing authors for Time Out).
After moving to Cheltenham in the Cotswolds, she wrote Birdcage Walk, which was published by Diversion as an ebook in 2012. Her second novel sold to Penguin in the UK and HarperCollins in the US and Canada, and was published in early 2015 – as The Girl in the Photograph and Fiercombe Manor respectively. A German edition will follow in the autumn of 2015. She is now hard at work on her next novel, a dual narrative story full of secrets and intrigue and moving between the years 1877, 1910 and 1922.
Kate lives in the Gloucestershire countryside with her husband and their dog Morris, a Staffordshire bull terrier they adopted from a shelter in 2013.
THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE by Simone St. James
Sarah Piper lives a pretty hand to mouth existence. Going from one temporary job to the next, usually alone and not very social she doesn’t have a lot going for her. She often wishes that her life was just as tad more adventurous. Be careful what you wish for Sarah! Enter Alistair Gellis, WWII survivor, independently wealthy ghost hunter, who as fate would have it needs an assistant – specifically a female assistant – to help him on his next “hunt”. Not exactly the kind employment you expect to receive when you work for a temp agency. Sarah has her trepidations but jumps at the money to be earned AND the chance to do something exciting.
The investigation is in a haunting involving a 19-year old Maddy Clare who apparently committed suicide. She is a very angry spirit who hates men (hence the need for a female assistant). Maddy is very vengeful and soon wreaks chaos on anyone involved with the investigation. Sarah, for some reason, feels empathy for Maddy and refuses to give up despite the horrific events that occur and when the truth comes out about the suicide both women are allowed relief from the nightmare that has become their reality.
Ms. St. James has given her readers an excellent story of a frightening haunting, atmospheric, tense and tingly with quite a few unexpected scares along the way. She has also given her readers a mystery to solve and that, all in all, makes for a pretty good ghost story.
My complaint with this book is not at all about the story but rests on the shoulders of the characters actions. I understand Sarah and her background, because it is very well written, but in her relationship with both Alistair and his original assistant she seems to step out of character. Her actions just did not seem to fit in with her character. I don’t want this review to include any spoilers, so suffice it to say that it bothered me enough to be an ever so slight hindrance to my complete enjoyment of the story.
So it’s three ghosts for this one.
I listened to this book on audio and the narrator, Pamelia Garelick, who is an excellent narrator did an superb job with the reading. However, her voice is very similar to that of actress Penelope Wilton who plays Isobel Crawley on Downton Abbey … so very similar that I could not get Ms. Wilton’s image out of my head the whole time I was listening to the book. I felt as if Isobel were telling me a story. I found this so distracting at times that I feel the need to mention it here, but it does not reflect (I don’t think) on my overall rating of the book, just on my enjoyment of this book on audio.
Simone St. James is a lifelong reader of ghost stories and other spooky reads, but it wasn’t until she was an adult that she discovered two wonderful genres: romances and old, classic gothics.
Wishing she could read something that combined the three, with a 1920’s setting thrown in as well (and having written two full novels that were rightfully rejected everywhere and will forever live under the bed), she wrote THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, which was the book she really wished to read. An agent’s representation and a publishing contract soon followed, and she has been happily writing in her chosen, made-up genre ever since. THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE won two of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® awards, as well as Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Book.
Simone spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to become a full-time writer. She lives just outside Toronto with her husband and an elderly cat who is probably sleeping as we speak. When not writing, Simone can be found traveling, cooking, staying active and healthy, gardening badly, and reading, reading, reading. Among her favorite authors (besides the geeky history and research books she loves) are Mary Stewart, Daphne duMaurier, Deanna Raybourn, Susanna Kearsley, Jacqueline Winspear, Victoria Holt, Kate Morton, George R. R. Martin, and Stephen King. How’s that for a mix? She is also rather addicted to Sherlock on the BBC.