By R.S. Maxwell
Publication Date: January 1, 2023
I’ve been avoiding WWII novels for a bit, mainly because they all seem to focus on female spy networks and I can only read that sort of plot a few times before I need something different. This one offered a different spin on this era, so I gave it a shot.
In 1940, a dud bomb lands near Ruth Gladstone’s Cambridge dormitory, forcing her evacuation. London is no longer a safer option so, with her grandmother, she decamps for her aunt’s cottage in the small village of Martynsborough. She expects her days to be spent idle, working on her novel, but instead finds herself shuffling papers for the war effort. There she meets Malcolm, a wounded soldier who lives in the next cottage over.
It seems that with the arrival of evacuees, a decades-old wraith has once again appeared in the village. It’s said to be the ghost of a girl found dead near the old manor house just after the turn of the century. Always curious, and seeing a potential plot for her novel, Ruth convinces Malcolm to help her investigate. As they get close to uncovering the truth behind the wraith, they discover that there are a myriad of secrets in the village that may unravel once a light is shown on them.
I wasn’t disappointed in the focus of the book, which was on the evacuees (not only Ruth, but several children and workers in the village as well,) and how they attempted to fit into a relatively closed society. Aside from privations and one scare, the actual war was fairly far removed from this locale. And the ghost story was nicely creepy and provided a plausible mystery for Ruth to untangle.
Unfortunately, there were so many small mysteries and issues woven into this book, they all sort of blended into each other. One problem would pop up, only to be handily resolved, and the characters moved on to the next. It was like jumping several small hurdles, none of which were too difficult to cross, and so the stakes felt low. Possibly it was because key scenes weren’t shown but were instead told in hindsight, and the reader misses out on a lot of potential emotion. Perhaps it’s just a British stiff upper lip attitude but it seemed like very little fazed the main characters; they took everything in stride so nothing seemed terribly exciting. I almost wish the subplots could have been thinned out a bit and what remained had been expanded on. Something to get me tensed up or excited. As it was, this was a very, very quiet story where nothing momentous happened.
Please don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike it. The historical details are fantastic and it portrayed life in a small village as something I’d love to experience. But the novel as a whole felt a tad anticlimactic.
3.5 out of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+
Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing the ARC. I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.
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