Following a scandal, Helen flees with her husband to his ancestral home, Ballintyre, where his family still lives, but on arrival her beloved sister in law Sylla is mysteriously missing and no one seems to be looking for her. Helen is determined to get to the bottom of it, and in the process, we learn about her secrets, her fractured marriage and the family relationships at Ballintyre. Interspersed, is is the story of Tigs, the young girl who, in 1978, was in love with John Ballintyre. Does her story hold the key to present day events?
Note: on Goodreads, the description calls Helen’s husband Angus, but this character was called Hamish in my copy.
This book is a little like those beach reads that you take on holiday, only set in Winter. Where in those books you get a romance, here you get a mystery. But all those juicy details like family secrets and affairs, lies and friendships, they’re all here. Though instead of a beach setting, you get gorgeous old homes in Scotland. It’s a lovely thick book to take on a break, perfect to sit by the fire and cozy up with.
As mentioned above, this book has a past story line and a present one. I think the format of alternating past and present chapters is overused and often one story line ends up being too light. This book avoids that pitfall. It’s structured in large parts where you get alternating chunks of the two plot lines and it works really well. Neither plot line is thin, all of the characters are rounded. Also, there is plenty of plotting, with the mystery threads of Sylla’s disappearance and Helen’s marriage, and who Tigs is keeping you guessing. But there is also side characters and smaller plotlines and stories, and those were all really nicely woven in.
What really impressed me in this book was the authors understanding of people. It lifts the story from what could have been soap opera to being good drama. Sometimes this is as simple as the way she shows us that Helen isn’t from the world of the Ballintyre’s, and how that puts her in an interesting situations or blinds her to certain things. But it’s best seen in her understanding of toxic family dynamics and what kind of people are drawn into that, what kind see through it, and how it functions. I found myself getting really angry at certain characters sometimes because they are so well drawn and life like.
On the whole, this is a thicker book and I thought it would take me longer to read it, but it’s a page turner. I liked all the different characters and the stories of each person’s past. I enjoyed piecing the story together from the little things that were dropped, and how someone in the present story sometimes appeared in the past and became more sympathetic as we learned their story. It’s well paced and each character feels real and thought out. Very entertaining.
Read It If: you love crumbling Scottish mansions, family drama and secrets, and a bit of mystery. I curled up and read this with cups of tea over a few rainy nights.
Thank you to PGC Books for the copy of this book for review.