I do like it when a book lives up to its title so I pleased to report that there are a number of mysteries between the pages of this debut novel by Stephanie Lam.
This book uses the dual time line style of narrative with alternate chapters narrated by Rosie Churchill in 1965 and Robert Carver in 1924. Rosie is just 18 and has left home before finishing school to share a flat in Castaway House. When Rosie is given a picture of Robert (because they share the same initials) her interest is piqued and she determines to find out more about him. Due to the two are separated by a mere forty years she is able to meet people who were around at the same time and as expected the more she finds out the deeper the mystery becomes. This is not all though because Rosie has her own secrets as do other members of the household.
In 1924 Robert Carver spends his summer with his cousin Alec Bray and his wife Clara in the summer while convalescing from an illness in the seaside town of Helmstone; no small shared flat for Robert though at this time the house is at its best complete with servants but it soon becomes apparent that Alec and Clara are far from happily married and Robert begins to regret his decision but then he meets the next door neighbours who include the Doctor’s daughter Lizzie and Robert graduates from boy to man.
This book is a whopping 500 plus pages but at no time did I feel that any parts of the book needed editing which illustrates the power of Stephanie Lam’s writing. The period details aren’t quite as defined as I would have liked but the two time periods were defined enough to avoid any confusion between them but I felt it relied quite heavily on the readers own knowledge to pick up on some of the references. The town of Helmstone although fictional felt like a real place and I was clearly able to visualise Castaway House from the description whilst wondering if the deterioration in the house over the forty years was a metaphor for the standards people were supposed to aspire to, although the evidence of some of the characters we met weren’t quite aspirational enough. Although we have two main protagonists the other characters have also had a lot of attention lavished on them, including those on the periphery to the tale which meant that when I closed the last page I was sorry to say goodbye.
I am very grateful to Penguin Books (UK) for giving me a copy of this book in return for this honest review and I can’t wait to see what Stephanie Lam delivers next, clearly an author to keep an eye out for. The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House was published on 28 August 2014.