After the debacle of Gertrude Stein’s Food – number 08 in the Penguin Modern Classics collection and the subject of yesterday’s blog – I desperately needed something that I was going to a) understand and b) enjoy.
Step up Elizabeth Speller with The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton.
Laurence Bartram is our protagonist in this book and I first encountered him in Speller’s first novel The Return of Captain John Emmett, which I thought was brilliant.
It’s 1924 and Bartram, a teacher at a boys’ school and an expert on churches, heads off to a crumbling stately home in Wiltshire where his friend William Bolitho has been employed to create a memorial maze to the men of Easton Deadall who died in the First World War and a stained glass window commemorating the Lord of the Manor who was also killed in action. Bolitho wants Bartram to examine the church before the works for the window commence because he feels the building may be much earlier than previously thought.
But there is a mystery attached to the house. Kitty Easton, only child of Lord and Lady Easton disappeared from her bed 13 years ago aged just 5 years old and no one has been able to discover what happened to her though Lady of the Manor Lydia Easton is convinced her daughter is still alive.
Lydia lives with her sister Frances, a friend of Bolitho’s wife Eleanor, and her brother-in-law Patrick and during this novel the other brother Julian returns from Crete where he has been working as an archaeologist.
During the course of Bartram’s investigations into the church he uncovers some hidden secrets. Can he discover the secrets of the landscape and the families inhabiting it?
Speller creates a great sense of both time and space in this book, just as she did in the first novel. I love the descriptions of the village and surrounds and the sense of the 1920s, between wars with the swansong of these stately English piles.
But most of all I enjoy her characters. I was delighted to find Bartram in another novel because I like him a lot. He is a complicated character, a former soldier who lost his wife and child while he was fighting for King and country. But he’s a rounded character and the more I got to know him, the more I liked him. The Bolithos – William and Eleanor – are an interesting couple. He suffered devastating injury in the First World War and lost both his legs. She is his devoted wife, carer and mother to his son Nicholas. But life isn’t easy for them. The family also featured in the first novel.
And in the new characters you see domestic violence, loyalty, violence and secrecy that makes them all very interesting.
Love this book and would love to see Laurence Bartram make another appearance sometime.