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by Marjorie Eccles
St Martin's Minotaur, August 2007
336 pages
ISBN: 0312368968

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

SHADOWS & LIES tells two intermingled stories that occur ten years apart. The first story is that of the Chetwynd family. The reluctant heir, Sebastian, does not want the estate as he wants to have a career and marry Louisa, a neighbor studying to be a doctor. Unfortunately before he is able to discuss this with his father, the body of an unknown woman is discovered on the Chetwynd grounds.

Sebastian originally believes the woman to have a connection to the womenís liberation movement but later changes his mind. Sebastianís brother had a mistress before his death, and Sebastian believes this dead woman has some connection to his brother and the family. He ultimately questions his family and digs into his brotherís relationships. While he is not determined to find justice for the dead woman, he is determined to learn the truth so that the family can be prepared to make amends if necessary.

Interspersed with this story is the story of Hannah. Hannah currently has amnesia and is attempting to rediscover her recent past. To this end, she relates all of the history that she remembers. Her portion of the story starts in 1894 and then moves forward to 1909, the year of the murder.

Hannah went to South Africa and was there for the Boer War. As she relates her story, the reader is able to make connections between her own experiences in the past and the current murder. Ultimately Hannahís story must be understood against the story of the Chetwynd family in order to provide a resolution to the murder and a motive to the murder.

SHADOWS & LIES is not the type of mystery that typically appeals to me. I prefer books that have a little more action and a little less introspection and contemplation. The narrative moves very slowly and stately, which makes it difficult to get into the story. The narrative, while very well written, does not draw me into the plot or the characters in general.

The one exception is Sebastian. He is a very interesting character as he struggles to find his own place in his family and in Victorian England. I wish that Eccles had devoted more time to his situation and the murder mystery as these portions of the book moved faster.

Eccles does a very good job of capturing the morass of politics and changing culture in Victorian England. This is the era that saw a major change in womenís rights, class structure and international politics. In addition to these changes, she also captures many of the social changes occurring in South Africa as the English deal with the Boer War, the natives and their own changing country. Eccles combines these characteristics into her narrative almost seamlessly.

The plot of SHADOWS & LIES did not appeal to me, but Eccles's ability to write a well-detailed and well-developed story compensates for these flaws.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, November 2007

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