In early 1800’s Bath, a neglected, beaten child wanders in out of the cold and finds shelter and family with a young, kind hearted woman called Alice. Twenty years later, a newlywed bride is drawn into the mystery of Alice’s disappearance when she finds that she resembles the missing girl.
It’s a novel of social constriction, love, intrigue and family secrets, set in the Jane Austen era (even set in her home town!), but at heart, it’s a murder mystery. The little girl, Starling, who wanders in out of the cold and is taken in by Alice, has grown up to be a wild and strange girl, full of anger and hate, and working as a servant in the house of the man who she believes killed the only family she ever had. That man, Jonathan, is the grandson of Alice’s benefactor, and has been shattered by his time in the Napoleonic Wars and the loss of Alice, whom he loved in secret and wanted to elope with, against the wishes of his family.
Into this mix comes Rachel, who has recently married a local merchant, and who was of good family before her fathers fall from grace. Her uncanny resemblance to the missing Alice means she is drawn in by the machinations of Starling and is enlisted as a companion to Jonathan, in the hopes of bringing him out of his state of madness and misery. She becomes fascinated by the lost Alice and the mystery surrounding her, and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her.
The book is full of twists and turns, and characters who know more than they’re saying or who prefer to lie to themselves than face the truth or social disgrace. The mystery surrounding Alice is well paced and intriguing, but the love story between her and Jonathan, Starlings life and the struggle of Rachel to find her place and a feeling of home, really elevates the story from being a murder mystery or another family secrets drama. It’s a great book, one that I recommend, especially if you’re an Austen fan.