I’ve mentioned before that I love manor mysteries; you know, mysteries that take place in mysterious old houses with creepy caretakers or daunting housekeepers. So when a come across a book with the word manor right in its title, I am definitely going to give it a read.
Fiercombe Manor, a debut mystery novel by Kate Riordan, despite a few minor flaws, met, yes, even exceeded, my expectations. It was suitably creepy in the manner of Rebecca, the similarities a reader can’t fail to notice.
It’s 1933, and young and naïve Alice finds herself in a precarious position – pregnant by a married man who has no intention of leaving his wife after all. She confesses her situation to her horrified mother, herself a cold and unloving parent. The mother contacts her old friend Mrs. Jelphs, who is a housekeeper at Fiercombe Manor in Gloustershire, far away from London. The plan is for Alice to have her baby (which Mrs. Jelphs is told is the result of a brief marriage that ended when her husband was killed), then return to London and immediately give the baby up for adoption.
But when Alice arrives at Fiercombe Manor, (which is not occupied by the Stanton family who live abroad, but instead is lived in and managed by Mrs. Jelphs and a groundskeeper) she immediately begins to get creeped out by some of the noises she hears at night and stories she is told. Bit by bit, she learns of the homes’ former occupants. From that point forward, the story is told in the familiar back-and-forth style – Alice’s story and the story of Elizabeth Stanton. Sometimes I wish authors could be a bit more clever; nevertheless, both storylines are creative and compelling.
The book’s readers and reviewers draw a comparison between Mrs. Jelphs and Mrs. Danvers (the housekeeper in Rebecca). I don’t believe the comparison is justified. While Mrs. Jelphs clearly knows more than she is saying, she is ultimately kind and cares for Alice. Still, the whole notion of a young woman alone in a creepy mansion with only a suspicious-seeming housekeeper and a groundskeeper who keeps showing up in unexpected place clearly begs the reader to compare it to Rebecca.
There is a romantic element, as one of the Stanton heirs is a young man who has issues of his own. The romance doesn’t get in the way of the story, however.
I enjoyed the book very much, and found Riordan’s writing to be beautiful. I am looking forward to the author’s next book, which apparently will be a ghost story.