Danger at Thatcham Hall by Frances Eavesham
Ambitious lawyer Nelson Roberts, embittered by war, jilted by his fiancée, and trusting no one, aims to make his name solving the mysterious thefts and violence at Thatcham Hall, a country house in Victorian England.
Olivia Martin, headstrong and talented, will stop at nothing to overcome the conventions of the day, avoid a miserable fate as a governess and fulfill dreams of a musical future.The pair stumble on a body. Is the farmhand’s death a simple accident, or something more sinister? Who attacked the livestock at the Hall and why are the villagers so reluctant to talk? Can Nelson and Olivia overcome their differences and join forces to unravel the web of evil that imperils the Hall?
Having only just read (and loved) An Independent Woman by Frances Evesham, I found myself immediately buying Danger at Thatcham Hall. Although following the stories of entirely different characters, we're still treated with Lord Thatcham and Philomena as minor characters in the tale. This helps to welcome us into the fold of Thatcham Hall again, and reassures us that our much-loved characters from the previous novel are doing well, and still very much in love. Despite this, Danger at Thatcham Hall would work well as a standalone novel, however I'd absolutely recommend reading An Independent Woman first.
We're given again a strong heroine, a tortured hero, and a series of mysteries. This time, instead of unravelling the characters' past, we focus on events happening in the present. Nelson Roberts is shipped in from London to solve the crimes, and Olivia Martin, also from London, is visiting as a friend and cousin of the family. Both of these characters struggle against the social expectations of their situation, and this is something I'm always interested to read in Victorian fiction. Olivia in particular is facing a life as a spinster governess due to her lack of wealth; men generally wanted to marry women from a prosperous family, as both a means of income and also for social status.
Evesham flips the narrative from chapter to chapter to allow us an insight into both Nelson and Olivia's mindset. Where they both feel the other is untrustworthy, it's entertaining to see their feelings and ideals are far similar than both of them imagine. Their attraction to each other takes them by surprise, and we're taken along with them as they try to hide their desire for each other.
The cast of characters is delightful, as expected. Evesham weaves their backgrounds intricately into the story, and we feel close to them, regardless of hero or villain. The mysteries are baffling to all, and are solved at a perfect, delectable pace, with no strikingly obvious motives or perpetrators.
Once again, Evesham's research into the age and setting is flawless. I particularly enjoyed more of a peek into the lives of the villagers close to Thatcham Hall. Their customs and colloquialisms were strikingly different to the residents of the hall, and although they seemed socially closer to the servants, it was clear to see working in a respected establishment such as the Hall houses the servants a level above the villagers. Evesham's hints to the politics, etiquette, and even fashion of the day are so subtle, yet fascinating. I really cannot fault her attention to detail.
It's been a long time since I've been so wrapped up in a story, and I'd like to thank the author for inviting me into her world. Both An Independent Woman and Danger at Thatcham Hall have helped me escape from my own world, and have brought me hours of suspense, fun, and awe. These are an absolute imperative read for fans of Victorian fiction; I look forward to (hopefully) a third.