it's the 1930s and you've foolishly entangled yourself with a married
man. What would happen if you found yourself pregnant? On the insistence
of her mother, 20-year-old Alice Eveleigh pretends to be a widow,
fleeing London to wait the birth of her child under the care of an old
Fiercombe is a place of secrets. They fret among the uppermost branches of the beech trees and brood at the cold bottom of the stream that cleaves the valley in two. The past has seeped into the soil here like spilt blood. If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear what's gone before, particularly on the stillest days. Sometimes the very air seems to hum with anticipation. At other times it's as though a collective breath has been drawn in and held. It waits, or so it seems to me.—Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan (HarperCollins / Harper, 2015, p. 1 [ARC])
- Setting: 1930s and 1890s England (the Cotswolds)
- Circumstances: In the 1930s, Alice is sent to a country manor to give birth to her illegitimate child and then leave him or her at an orphanage. In the 1890s Lady Elizabeth Stanton is pregnant for the second time, praying that she'll give her husband the son he desires. As Alice wanders the empty manor (the owners live abroad), she uncovers secrets about Elizabeth and begins to fear for her own safety.
- Characters: Alice Eveleigh, pregnant and unmarried; Elizabeth Stanton, lady of the manor, no longer living on the estate; Edith Jelphs, housekeeper of the manor; Tom Stanton, heir to the estate; various family members and people in London and in the Cotswolds
- Genre: historical mystery with strong Gothic elements
- Plot device: Told in alternating chapters: Alice as she explores her temporary home and Elizabeth as she worries about what her husband will do if her pregnancy doesn't turn out as planned.
- Some themes: treatment of women, pregnancy, mental health, women under the control of men, secrets, marriage, love
- Early thoughts: Riordan's descriptions of the setting are vivid and the characters are believably flawed. The premise intrigues me: uncovering secrets, hearing unexplained sounds, and wondering what happened to Elizabeth and why she is scared. Reviews, however, have been mixed, citing disappointment with the ending, a weak creep factor, and an unoriginal plot. I'm going to reserve judgment until I finish reading.