The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton
By Elizabeth Speller
Meet detective Laurence Bartram. Only he's not really a detective. He's more of an expert on English churches. Bartram accepts an invitation to an estate house called Easton Deadall, which is an ominous name if ever there was one, to help an architect friend with his knowledge of church history. Bartram arrives to discover the Easton family inhabiting a crumbling estate which they aim to renovate along with the cottages of the nearby village. But even with the Eastons looking to the future, it's not long before he learns that more than a decade ago five-year-old Kitty Easton disappeared without a trace. Her absence is still felt. Despite the thorough searching that went on at the time, everyone is keenly aware that with the new renovations that they could stumble upon a small set of bones at any moment. Would this be a blessing or a curse? Some members of the family prefer to think that Kitty's still alive somewhere and confirmation of her death would put an end to that fantasy.
A large part of Bartram's character derives from the fact that he is a veteran of the first World War. The traumas affecting those who fought, and the consequences for the national psyche, factor heavily in both of the Bartram stories to date. But while that philosophical inquiry informs the characters, there is a mystery at the heart of the book. More than one, really.
The best part of this story is the atmosphere the author creates. As characters explore the grounds, which include an ancient church with curious carvings, a black-watered pond, and a hedge maze the family is in the process of building, you feel like you are exploring with them. The estate is as much of a character as anyone else in the book, and that's not a bad thing.
To learn more about Laurence Bartram you might want to start with the first book featuring him, The Return of Captain John Emmet. But that book gives much more focus to his experiences during the war, forcing the mystery to take a back seat.
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Review by Danny Hanbery