Tuesday, December 2, 2014

'The Secret of Pembrooke Park' by Julie Klassen

Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor's past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.

Hoping to improve her family's financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?

Abigail Foster and her family are struggling financially after a failed investment. They are offered an anonymous tenancy by a distant relative. Pembrooke Park turns out to be a wonderful, rambling old manor house which is grand enough to satisfy her choosy mother and sister. But the mystery surrounding the house is a bit creepy. The Pembrooke family who lived there previously suddenly disappeared one day, leaving food on plates, tea in cups, clothes in cupboards and a partially completed chess game. And there are rumours of a hidden treasure left by previous owner, Robert Pembrooke, which apparently sent his mercenary brother, Clive, almost mad searching for it.

Abigail is the sort of heroine we may recognise from other historical novels. She's like Elinor Dashwood, a sensible older sister with a good head for business who considers herself plain and has a secret fear of being left on the shelf. Her younger sister, Louisa, is the shallow coquette who is considered the family beauty and demands the best of everything for herself. However, not everybody is immune to Abigail's more modest charms.

During the course of the story, an abundance of young men take an interest in Abigail. They either have romantic intentions, secrets to conceal, or both. I was very sad about one of them, when I considered his back story along with what ends up happening to him. Still, the story is written in such a way to leave no doubt that, as far as Abigail's hand is concerned, the best man wins.

I've compared Julie Klassen's novels to old English authors in the past. This one put me in mind of the writing of Wilkie Collins. It's full of mysterious secrets, sudden surprises, concealed identities, and rumours of treasure attracting several hunters. And there is both an unidentified veiled lady and a sinister man in a cloak hanging around, each for their own reasons.

I've got to mention William's sermons. He is the young curate who has received mixed feedback of compliments and criticism for their shortness. One of the samples we got seemed only a few paragraphs long, making me think I could understand any parishioner for feeling ripped off. However, their premises were sound, and on a personal note, as I sat on my kindle and broke it while on holiday, the one about where our treasures are hit home for me. All ended well.

Thanks to Net Galley and Bethany House for my review copy.

4 stars

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