When I read the publisher’s blurb about The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller, I was intrigued. I love a good historical mystery and a good English mystery, and I haven’t read many set during the period just after World War I. This one also had an intriguing book cover, and you know I’m a sucker for an interesting book cover. I’m happy to say this one did not let me down in any way.
The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is Book #2 in the Laurence Bartram mystery series; however, I didn’t feel I had missed anything by reading this one without reading Book #1 first. If you like an interesting mystery that will keep you on your toes, check out the review below.
“’Easton Deadall is a village of widows, children and old men.’” Eleanor Bolitho
In 1911, five-year-old Kitty Easton was put to bed in the nursery at Easton Deadall. Sometime that night, she disappeared without a trace. Searchers were brought in to comb the countryside but to no avail. No one has seen her since.
It’s 1924, and she’s been gone for 13 years, but her disappearance still haunts her family and has irrevocably changed the way family members behave toward and view each other. Although Mrs. Lydia Easton still talks about Kitty as if she’s alive, she’s the only person who holds out any hope for that. The rest of the family and the manor staff are convinced Kitty perished that night, even though a body was never found.
“’Poor Lydia,’ Eleanor [Bolitho] said, standing up. ‘She never saw Kitty again, never had another child and then war came and in 1917 Digby was killed.’ Eleanor stopped, as if still shocked by the enormity of Lydia’s loss.”
Mrs. Easton is in delicate health but she’s decided to commission a hedge maze to be built behind the manor to commemorate the village’s men lost during the Great War while led by Digby Easton. It’s also to be an informal memorial to Kitty’s memory. William Bolitho, a wheelchair-bound war vet and brilliant architect, has been commissioned to create the maze. He’s worked hard to ensure its design is in keeping with the estate’s character and lengthy history.
While on break from teaching, William’s friend, Laurence Bartram, comes to visit to lend his expertise on ancient religions to the chapel portion of the project William has been so excited about. Laurence loves the beautiful, if haphazardly built, manor with its pastoral setting as well as its ancient chapel.
“The effect of it was part Scottish castle, part Tudor palace, part Venetian palazzo: more operatic set than family house. Above its turrets and crenellations small clouds moved swiftly across a palest blue sky and to one side, its proportions dwarfed by the house, stood a tiny church. Even at a glance he could see that the church was ancient, just as William had said.”
He’s very moved by the memorial being created to those who didn’t survive the war. He’s puzzled though by the pall that seems to hang over Easton Deadall. There are a great many unanswered questions surrounding Kitty’s disappearance that puzzle him; however, he doesn’t understand the antipathy family members seem to have for each other.
Then on a trip into London to the Exhibition at Wembly, a maid named Maggies is assigned to watch over William’s son but she goes missing in plain sight, leaving the young boy alone amidst the crowds. She was a young girl who had led a sheltered life in the village but she was so diligent in her babysitting duties and had been excitedly looking forward to visiting the city. Everyone fears she has come to harm because of her innocence but no one can find her. Laurence is determined to find out what became of her, and hopefully to find her alive and well.
“’Phew,’ [Eleanor] she said, ‘I’m quite glad to be relieved of motherhood for an hour or so. Nicky was absolutely determined to see anything with a motor, any large or freakish living creature, or to cadge some kind of present to take away, however unsuitable for a child. I had to buy him a plaster of paris replica of the British Lions to divert him from endless lemonade, humbugs and barley-sugar twists. He was even petitioning for an exhibition Bible. A Bible.’ She spoke as if he’d wanted to lay hands on some racy pictures.”
Laurence is fascinated by the symbols found in the chapel, which clearly housed an ancient religion before its present day one. One day while working in the chapel with one of the staff, Laurence discovers a trapdoor in the floor. When they finally wrench the heavy trapdoor open, the body of a woman is discovered at the foot of the stairs. Between the maid disappearing and the woman’s obvious murder, Laurence knows they must get to the bottom of whatever is going on with the Easton family before more people meet an untimely fate.
The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is a classic English manor-house mystery, and those are always so much fun! Just like with a hedge maze, this mystery has lots of dead ends, wrong turns, and misleading clues. Some of the innocent seeming characters are not who they seem and others who seem villainous are innocuous. It’s like one big funhouse ride with distorting mirrors and things jumping out at you when you least expect them. I loved all of the characters because even those who were the villains were so three-dimensional that you knew why they did what they did. Laurence is a wonderful detective and a very likeable guy. I’m really looking forward to reading the next Laurence Bartram mystery!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton was published on June 26, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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