While Alice’s mother is pressing her to find a man and settle down, she doesn’t know that her young daughter has indeed found someone. But that someone is married and Alice becomes pregnant after just one night together.
It’s 1933 and to avoid the inevitable scandal, Alice’s mother reaches out to her childhood friend, a maid at Fiercombe Manor. Lord Stanton and his wife live abroad and after the story Alice’s mother spins – a tragic tale a young husband struck down in an accident – they offer up their home as a place of rest and respite for the duration of Alice’s pregnancy.
Fiercombe Manor is an ominous place and Alice immediately begins to feel weighed down by the secrets of its past. But as she tries to learn more, the few remaining servants become very secretive, especially when Alice asks them about the previous Lady Stanton, a woman whose fate seems to be a mystery even to the locals.
Kate Riordan spins this tale with two narrators and two timelines – Alice in 1933 as she waits out her term and Elizabeth in 1898 who is expecting her second child. Strangely, in Alice’s timeline no one really talks about Elizabeth. Alice learns that Elizabeth’s husband died, leaving his brother to inherit both the estate and mounting debts. She also learns that Elizabeth’s home, built by the deceased Lord Stanton, and its contents were all auctioned off just ten years after being built. All that remains of that home – Stanton House – is an overgrown foundation, the garden wall, and a glasshouse Alice has been forbidden from entering.
As Alice finds more and more clues about Elizabeth, Elizabeth herself shares pieces of her story. We meet her in alternating chapters as well as diary entries that Alice discovers hidden on the estate. Both women are very well drawn and their stories are both captivating and suspense laden. Fiercombe Manor is a great atmospheric read and a nice blend of mystery and drama.
(Published as The Girl in the Photograph in the UK.)
3/15 Becky LeJeune
FIERCOMBE MANOR by Kate Riordan. Harper (February 17, 2015). ISBN: 978-0062332943. 416p.