On a dark winter night, a book that promised to draw me back into the 19th century, into a story of family secrets and terrible crimes, called to me.
It began with a newspaper report.
‘This newspaper has taken note that the past month has been remarkable for the prevalence of cases where men, women and children are declared missing. Scarcely a week passes without the occurrence of an incident of this type’
The Morning Herald, Tuesday 13 September 1831
And then it told me the story of Hester White.
Hester was a bright young woman who had very bad luck. Her childhood home had been a country parsonage, and she had been a much loved only child, but when her parents died, one after the other, she found herself alone in the world with no family to claim her. The elderly couple who had been the family’s servants took her in, hoping that the new parson would employ them and help the child. He did neither, and so they took her with them when they set out to look for work.
They struggled, they found themselves living hand to mouth in a London slum, and Hester learned some very hard lessons.
The writing was wonderful, I was very taken with Hester, and I was happy to follow her as the story unfolded.
It was maybe because she was worried about one of those missing persons that she didn’t look where she was going and was crushed by a gentleman’s carriage. She was badly injured, but she was lucky because that gentleman took her home in her carriage, he made sure that she had all of the care and attention that she needed, and then he made her extraordinary proposal. He wanted her to stay, and to be educated by his sister; because he was a social reformer and he wanted to prove that slum dwellers could be educated, that they could better themselves …
Hester seized the chance of a new life, but things went terribly wrong, she received a warning and she had to flee. She found though that she couldn’t go back and that she couldn’t let go of the new life she had been promised.
I understood why she acted as she did, why she felt as she did, and I loved her voice as she told her story.
I was interested in the relationships I saw, and with the relationships that were growing, with people she knew in London, with the servants who looked after her at Brock House, and with the Brock family and the people around them. There was one person in particular, a relationship that was uncertain at first but became firmer and stronger.
I loved the way that the intrigue had developed. The Brock family relationships were strained and it was clear that there were dark secrets. Two of their servants were missing, as well as the missing Londoners, and it was by no means certain that Hester was safer there than she had been on the streets.
I wish that I could say that the playing out of the story was as good as the setting up, but I can’t.
It’s difficult to say why without saying too much, but there was a change of direction and it was too melodramatic and too far fetched for me, and the characters and relationships were compromised for the sake of the plot.
There were times when questions should have been asked, but they weren’t; because the plot was rushing forward to the finish.
It wasn’t entirely wrong, but it wasn’t right, and I couldn’t help thinking that the author was trying to do too much in one book and that there wasn’t the space to develop all of the different aspects of the story.
I loved her writing, I loved her ideas, but the book as a whole didn’t quite work.
The ending was infuriating. A door was very firmly closed, and then it was forced open again when it shouldn’t have been. I had thought the conclusion that I wanted couldn’t be, and just as I had accepted that I found that it had happened after all. It was right but it was wrong!
I can believe that a different kind of reader would love the whole of this book.
I can’t, but I found enough to admire in this book to be interested in seeing what its author does next.