THE STRANGE FATE OF KITTY EASTON (A Laurence Bartram Mystery)
By Elizabeth Speller
Crime fiction (British traditional historical)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Laurence Bartram is getting accustomed to life after WWI, teaching and adjusting to life without his wife and newborn, who both died, and the woman he loves, who is separated from him while her husband, with no hope of recovery, clings to life.
Laurence accepts the invitation of his friend William, a talented architect who lost the use of his legs in the war, to look over the restoration of a church on a country estate. William, his ardent political wife Eleanor, and their young son Nicholas are stayiing with the Eastons, a prototypical country gentry family riddled with tragedy and secrets.
The tragedy that weighs heaviest on the family members is the disappearance of five-year-old Kitty more than 10 years ago. The lord of the manor, Digby, fell deeper into drink and tyrannical ways after the child vanished from her room one night. He was killed in France, while younger brother Julian survived to carry on at home. He pines for Digby's widow, Lydia, who is becoming more frail by the day and who cannot acknowledge her daughter may be dead. Youngest brother Patrick plays the role of ne'er-do-well, but his story, like that of all the Eastons, is deeper than first appearances.
It takes pages and pages for anything to really happen, but the church restoration -- and underground discoveries -- and an ill-fated trip to a London exhibition are trigger events that eventually bring to light most of the Easton secrets.
Speller's second Laurence Bartram novel is leisurely paced, better reflecting an era when people counted time in days and weeks, rather than minutes, and no one multi-tasked. The pacing highlights how events large and small could have lasting effects on the characters. The characters demonstrate qualities that may seem quaint today -- loyalty, thoughtfulness, reluctance to gossip but truthfulness when asked forthright.
The novel does require knowledge of characters from the first Laurence Bartram novel. Like this one, The Return of Captain John Emmett uses the crime fiction genre to explore how a people try to return to a way of life after war nearly destroys it. Laurence's decisions at the end of Kitty Easton portend interesting possibilities for continuing the series, as do the actions of other returning characters.
©2012 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission