Jude is an appraiser in a London auction house. She has a chance conversation with Robert Wickham and soon after sets off for the countryside to begin examining the eighteenth century manuscripts and astronomical artifacts of Robert’s ancestor, Anthony Wickham.
The countryside which houses Starbrough Hall is also home to the childhood home of Jude’s Gran and close by is her sister Claire’s house. Upon arriving at Starbrough, Jude realizes her niece, Summer is suffering from the same sort of dreams that she herself had as a young girl. As Jude delves deeper into the manuscripts, the mystery of what happened so long ago becomes even more complex.
There are times when I pick up a book and know before I start reading that it is special. A Place of Secrets was one of those books. When I first started reading it, I kept trying to compare it to The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton but this holds up on its own. Maybe there is just something about a good British novel. It’s haunting in its prose, well-crafted, intriguing and it keeps you on your toes.
I loved Jude; I thought she was a smart, genuine character. Claire, who I loved to be annoyed at, was well-written. We were supposed to have mixed feelings about her and she is well done. All of the characters are beautifully developed and each contributes to the plot nicely.
The love story was top notch and while I’ve seen this scenario (widowed, coming to terms with grief) in books before, I think Hore’s take on it is one of the best I’ve read. The love story isn’t the primary focus of the novel and it never tries to be, it weaves its way in naturally and the development is realistic and spot on.
Every time you think you have the mystery figured out and you know what is going to happen, the characters come to the same logical conclusions as you do so you are always kept guessing and it never becomes predictable. I love that. I find it irritating when the clues are so obvious and the characters are basically too dumb to figure it out.
The only weak part I found in the plot was the dreams. It was kind of dropped when the mystery was figured out but it was never explained why some (Jude, Summer) had the dreams but others (Claire, Valerie, Gran) did not, although all had been to the folly.
Overall, I think it should be on everyone’s spring reading lists. It would make a good book club selection as well. (Look for it in the future as a Book Club pick). You might even be speaking British after reading it like I am.