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#11 The Strange fate of Kitty Easton - Elizabeth Speller (2011)

When former infantry officer Laurence Bartram is called to the small village of Easton Deadall, he is struck by the beauty of the place: a crumbling stately home; a centuries-old church; and a recently planted maze, a memorial to the men of the village, almost all of whom died in one heroic battle in 1916. But it soon becomes clear to Laurence that while rest of the country is alight with hope for the first time since the end of the War, as the first Labour government takes power, the Wiltshire village is haunted by its tragic past. In 1911, five-year-old Kitty Easton disappeared from her bed and has not been seen since: only her fragile mother believes still she is alive. When a family trip to the Empire Exhibition in London ends in disaster and things take an increasingly sinister turn, Laurence struggles to find out what has happened as it seems that the fate of the house, the men and of Kitty herself may be part of a much longer, darker story of love, betrayal – and violence.

Some months ago I heard about a book called The Return of Captain John Emmett, originally I heard about it through twitter – read some reviews and promptly bought it. I read it in June, and enjoyed it enormously.

http://heavenali.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/the-return-of-captain-john-emmett-elizabeth-speller-2010/

At Christmas I was delighted to receive a new hardback edition of the sequel to John Emmett, ‘The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton’ through an online secret santa exchange.

It is now three years later than the events chronicled in John Emmett. Captain Laurence Bartram travels to Easton Deadall, in Wiltshire, and the Easton estate there, to assist his friend – whom we also encountered in the previous novel – architect William Bolithho. Wheelchair bound William, had been employed to improve farm workers cottages and was designing a maze for the estate grounds, and knowing Laurence has an expertise in old churches, asks him to look at the church at Easton Deadall. Laurence is obliged to stay in the house with the Easton family, who he quickly sees have been living under a shadow since 1911 – when young Kitty, the 5-year-old daughter of Digby and Lydia Easton disappeared from her bed. Since then the fortunes of the Easton estate have been in decline, Digby is dead, Lydia terribly unwell, and brothers Julian and Patrick somewhat estranged. What seems to be a tragic puzzle take on a slightly different turn following a trip to London and a visit to The British Empire Exhibition. Laurence Bartram then is set upon a trail – to discover the truth about what happened to Kitty.

The writing of this novel is excellent. Both well crafted and well plotted ‘The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton’ is that marvelous thing – a well written intelligent page turner. Elizabeth Speller explores brilliantly, the psychology of those men who survived the trenches of the first world war, of the communities that having joined up together – fought side by side under the leadership of their “lord of the manor” – and then so often of course died together. The fragility of families and their secrets – we don’t always knows what goes on behind closed doors – repression and fear, keeping people’s mouths shut – the tragedies that come out of such silence are deftly examined and brought to life.

Plenty of red herrings keeps the reader guessing – and indeed kept me reading very late last night – making for a hard to put down novel that is wholly satisfying and continually engaging. I love the characters of Laurence Bartram and Eleanor and William Bolitho – they are people I want to know better and encounter again. They are real people with pasts, intelligent, perceptive people with vulnerabilities and huge strengths.
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