This is the story of Miss Olivia Keene, who is a teacher in a local school for girls. She returns home one day to find her mother being strangled. Olivia rushes to her mother’s aid and strikes the attacker over the head. Her mother gives her a purse and pleads with Olivia to run, in case she has unintentionally killed him, and Olivia obeys. She hopes to find sanctuary with a friend of her mother’s some distance away, and hopes that they will take her on to work in their school. Olivia has a near run escape from being ravished by poachers. The next day fate initially seems to be kinder to her; she meets a vicar who offers her lodging for the night and points her in the direction of a kindly lady shop owner who can provide Olivia with the wherewithal to repair her damaged clothes. Olivia is returning to the Vicar’s abode when she takes a detour. She had found a newspaper cutting in the purse her mother gave her mentioning an estate, and finding how close she is, she decides to have a look. We all know that this is a bad idea, and so it proves to be!
Olivia doesn’t intend to eavesdrop but she overhears a colossal family secret, which has come to light due to a blackmail attempt, and before she can get away she is captured and handed into the local constabulary for trespass. Unfortunately for Olivia, they hadn’t noticed that there is somebody already in the cell she is put into; it’s one of the poachers from the previous night. He decides that this is his opportunity to continue what was interrupted, as long as Olivia can be silenced, and he chokes her hard enough to damage her larynx. Although she is saved before she can be violated she now can’t speak. She is removed from the cell at the request of Lord Bradley (Edward), the man whose deepest secret she now knows. He is understandably keen to keep a very close eye on Olivia for the next few months, until he can root out the blackmailer and the danger has passed. Olivia is taken on as a nurserymaid, and then later a governess, all the while getting closer to Edward Bradley, and trying to discover the whereabouts of her mother and the identity of the blackmailer.
This was a story where you found you were immediately in the thick of the action. It’s pretty fast paced and there is a lot going on, and quite a cast of characters to come to know. I thought the author did a good job of the pacing, and not overwhelming the reader considering the amount of threads there are to the various mysteries being unravelled. There are also some useful and interesting quotes provided at the beginning of each chapter regarding the place of servants in the home, particularly governesses. How they were above the servants but below the family, how lonely and vulnerable their lives could be. The author hails from across the pond I believe, but aside from the odd US English word and the mention of a raccoon, which don’t live in the wild here, you wouldn’t particularly notice.
There was a lot I liked about this book. The various threads gave you much to think about, and although I worked some of it out, other events were unexpected for me, which really added interest. I enjoyed seeing Olivia settle into her new home and overcoming the obstacles she faces in trying to communicate without speaking. The theme of her silence followed through the story, as we learn that in the past Olivia has stayed silent at times when perhaps she should not have, and so she overcomes physically having to be silent, being forced to remain silenced, and also overcomes choosing to silence herself. Olivia also evaluates her relationship with her father, and with God. Edward also has a journey of discovery; the secret he learns completely shakes the foundation of what he thought his life was, and causes him to question many of his beliefs.
There are characters of varying classes, and interaction between the classes is a theme in this book, but in English society at the time it was a big deal. Many times while reading this book I wondered if it would be possible for Olivia to have any kind of future together with Edward without the author coming up with something really clever. For me, the ending of this book was a bit of a letdown. Most of the threads of the story were resolved fairly quickly and some aspects of the conclusion felt rushed to me. Some of the events at the end weren’t what I would have chosen to happen, and in fact some I felt were unlikely, but it wasn’t that I objected to so much although I couldn’t help but feel that there would have been a scandal though the possibility of this was brushed under the carpet. The bigger issue for me was that various characters seemed very accepting of events I felt they probably would have made more of an attempt to resist. There was an epilogue only a short time later which answered very few of the questions that I was left with. For me, this made it a 4 star read rather than a 5. Still, I thought this was a good read, and very gripping. I was surprised to see how long it is, it felt much shorter. I certainly plan to read more by this author.