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by Judith Cutler
Allison & Busby, July 2008
288 pages
ISBN: 0749079126

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The blurb on the back of THE KEEPER OF SECRETS uses words like "thriller," "gothic," and "bloodcurdling." Personally, I'd use "leisurely." Things start off slowly and stay that way until at least halfway through the book.

Tobias Campion has given up a life of riches and privilege to become the parson at Moreton Priory, a town which is squired over by distant relatives. From the moment he arrives, he starts shaking things up, defending the honor of a servant girl against the son of the manor house; trying to keep the poor out of the workhouse, preaching to the village about their duties to protect the poor, and trying to teach the servants and the village folk how to read. The poor people appreciate his help, but many of their "betters" do not. The son of the house shoves and insults him; someone strings twine across the road to trip his horse, and finally someone knocks him on the head on a cold night, steals his money, watch and boots, and leaves him to die of exposure.

It wouldn't be the first odd death. There had been rumors that the old lord's accidental drowning had not been accidental. And the new lord has a reputation for cruelty that none of his mother's fondness or the family fortune could overcome.

There is even romance in the air quite a lot of romance; the young nobles aren't the only one who had eyes for Lizzie, the beautiful servant girl. Two of the working men were vying to walk out with her, while Parson Campion himself took a chaste but very personal interest in her prospects.

For all of this, though, THE KEEPER OF SECRETS takes a very long time to get moving, and even when it does, there is a curious lack of urgency. This is mainly due to vast amounts of the action taking place offstage, narrated in a series of letters back home, although delaying the first major crime until over halfway through the book doesn't help either. Then, after a few more chapters, the action finally begins, and at that point the book really does become thrilling, frightening, and gothic.

But it takes almost 200 pages of scene-setting to get there. And while the scene is set beautifully, really getting the feel of the early 1800s, almost 200 pages of neither torrid Regency romance nor thrilling mystery is about 175 pages scene-setting too much.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, August 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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