review copy provided by William Morrow
Description from Goodreads:
England, 1911. The Reverend Albert Canning, a vicar with a passion for spiritualism, leads a happy existence with his naive wife Hester in a sleepy Berkshire village. As summer dawns, their quiet lives are changed for ever by two new arrivals. First comes Cat, the new maid: a free-spirited and disaffected young woman sent down from London after entanglements with the law. Cat quickly finds a place for herself in the secret underbelly of local society as she plots her escape. Then comes Robin Durrant, a leading expert in the occult, enticed by tales of elemental beings in the water meadows nearby. A young man of magnetic charm and beauty, Robin soon becomes an object of fascination and desire. During a long spell of oppressive summer heat, the rectory at Cold Ash Holt becomes charged with ambition, love and jealousy; a mixture of emotions so powerful that it leads, ultimately, to murder.
Once again Katherine Webb drew me into her story from the very first chapter. This story really captured my imagination. The dual story line works for me here just like it did in Webb's The Legacy. There is a modern story line which tels of the search for the identity of a soldier to who died during WWI. The 1911 thread gives the story of the Reverend Albert Canning and his wife Hester during the summer that the new maid Cat joins the household as well as the visit of occult expert, Robin Durrant. The 1911 story line is just chock full of interesting, conflicted, confused, manipulative, and naive characters.
The Reverend Albert Canning and his wife Hester are an interesting, troubled, naive couple. Even for the time, 1911, they seem incredibly sheltered. Albert is clearly confused and conflicted about his marriage and his role therein. Hester is confused as well, but is at least trying to figure things out. Hester has hired a new maid, Cat, and views this as an act of charity due to Cat's troubled past. Just what this past was is revealed gradually through the book. Cat is an intelligent, independent, strong-willed young woman who refuses to let anyone limit her. I really liked her and wanted to see her make a new life for herself.
Albert Canning is a troubled soul. His innocence, naivete, and religious convictions all contribute to his being susceptible to the particular charms of one Robin Durrant, a self-proclaimed expert of the occult. Durrant is obviously a manipulative person and trouble from the start - to an observant, intelligent, perceptive person, anyway. While the Cannings are unaware of his past or his manipulative way, Cat sees through Durrant and tries to warn Hester.
There are so many things I want to discuss about the book, but they would give even more of the plot away. I loved this book so much! It was a fast-paced page-turner that I couldn't put down until I finished it. At the last minute before it happened, I could see the tragedy that was about to unfold, but I couldn't stop reading. I was saddened by the story, but I was so happy to have the opportunity to read such a great book.