Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Harper (February 17, 2015)
A house as old as Fiercombe Manor holds many secrets within its walls. But which dark chapter of its history is haunting Alice, a young woman staying there during the course of a fateful summer?
In 1933, naive twenty-two-year-old Alice is pregnant, unmarried, and disgraced. She can no longer share her parents’ London home, so her desperate mother concocts a cover story and begs her old friend, Mrs. Jelphs, for help. The housekeeper at rural Fiercombe Manor, Mrs. Jelphs is moved by Alice’s “plight” as a new widow and agrees to watch over her in the secluded English countryside until the baby is born and given up for adoption. Because the manor house’s owners, Lord and Lady Stanton, no longer live there, Alice’s only company will be Mrs. Jelphs and her skeleton staff.
Thirty years before Alice’s arrival, Lady Elizabeth Stanton awaits the birth of her second child, fervently hoping he will be the boy her husband desires. But as her time nears, she is increasingly tormented by memories of what happened with her first baby and terrified that history will repeat itself . . . with devastating consequences.
At first, Fiercombe Manor offers Alice a welcome relief from her mother’s disapproving gaze. But she begins to sense that all is not well in the picturesque Gloucestershire valley. After a chance encounter with Tom, the young scion of the Stanton family, Alice discovers that Fiercombe’s beauty is haunted by the clan’s tragic past. She is determined to exorcise the ghosts of the idyllic, isolated house.
Nothing can prepare Alice for what she uncovers. Can she escape the tragic fate of the other women who have lived in the Fiercombe valley?
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After a brief affair with a married man at her office, twenty-two year old and unmarried Alice finds herself pregnant. Her mother decides to ship Alice off to rural Gloucestershire to have her confinement at Fiercombe Manor where an old friend, Edith Jelphs, works as the housekeeper. With a made up story of a dead husband, Alice is welcomed to Fiercombe and glad to be out of the watchful eye of her mother. As Alice becomes settled at the manor, she notices a few strange occurrences and slowly learns the tragic history of the manor and its absent owners.
With a haunting and elegant prose, the mysteries of Fiercombe Manor slowly unfold. I enjoyed the switching points of view between Alice in 1932 and Elizabeth and 1898 and the parallel stories added to the suspense of the mystery and provided a pretty good pace; I did feel a little bit of a drag in the middle, but it picked back up. While both women’s characters captured me, I felt more invested in Elizabeth’s story, especially once Alice is set on discovering what happened in the past with another woman who was pregnant at the manor. Alice’s spirit and the hint of a romance lured me into her story. Most of all, I was interested in the overall treatment of women, the treatment of post-partum depression and their pregnancies during the two time periods, the factors that draw Alice and Elizabeth’s stories together. Overall, Fiercombe Manor is a highly atmospheric historical mystery with a bit of romance.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London. She is also the author of Birdcage Walk and is already at work on her third novel. Born in London, she now lives in the Gloucestershire countryside.
Find out more about Kate at her website and connect with her on Twitter.