#123 The keeper of Secrets - Judith Cutler (2007)
It is 1810 and young Parson Tobias Campion takes up his new position in small Warwickshire community of Moreton Priory. He spends the night before he moves into his new home, in the grand house of his distant cousin Lady Elham. It is while in this house that Tobias first meets Lizzie, a beautiful housemaid, who he has to save from the clutches of a houseguest. In the weeks that follow Tobias becomes acquainted with life in this small rural community, the realities of the poverty suffered by some parishioners, being of particular concern. Living alongside Tobias is Jem his groom, the two men played together as young boys on Tobias’s family estate, but now although socially separate the men remain friends and Jem is often at Tobias’s side, and time and again proves himself indispensable. Tobias is befriended soon after his arrival by the local doctor, a man rather older than Toby who has a rather touching friendship with Lady Elham’s housekeeper. However Toby hardly has time to settle into his new role before other matters take his attention away from his parish duties. Lady Elham’s husband dies suddenly, and the lady Elham’s son the arrogant and spoiled heir becomes the new Lord Elham. Tobias himself is nursing a secret love for Lizzie, although he is far from the only man who is entertaining similar thoughts. Meanwhile a mantrap on Tobias’s land kills a poacher, and then Tobias is victim to a mysterious attack himself one day. Then most worrying of all Lizzie disappears. Aided by Jem and Dr Hansard Tobias sets out to discover the truth about what happened to Lizzie, which takes the men to the fashionable town of Bath.
“The bird I was watching, flitting to and fro through the woodland to her unseen nesting place, was one of the genus Sylviidae, the warblers. I could not tell in the dim light that was all the noble trees permitted whether she was a sedge-warbler or a whitethroat. I resolved to tread softly in the hope of seeing her more closely – perhaps even finding the nest.
There! I was almost upon her! A whitethroat, surely with the building material of her nest in her beak – soft delicate threads, blowing in the breeze as she darted with purpose into a rowan tree. The thread was red”
This is the first novel in a new series by a prolific writer of crime fiction, and I know that there is a second book in the series – which I will certainly be getting hold of. I think Judith Cutler’s other novels are more modern set novels, which I don’t think I will be reading. The Keeper of Secrets though is well written atmospheric novel, and I enjoyed it a lot. The story does take a little while to get going, which I often think happens with the first book in a series. I loved the setting and the characters of Tobias, Jem and Dr Hansard and their relationships are well developed and I am sure will delight readers of historical crime fiction.