When Gemma discovers a pair of ancient duelling pistols encrusted with rubies in the basement of the local museum, she is immediately intrigued…
On a fateful night in 1838 two sisters were found shot in the cellars of Red Hill Hall. And when Gemma begins to delve deeper into their history she begins to realise that the secrets of that night are darker than anyone had ever imagined.
As the shocking events of the past begin to unravel, Gemma’s own life starts to fall apart. Loyalties are tested and suddenly it seems as if history is repeating itself, as Gemma learns that female friendships can be deadly…
I’m a massive fan of stories with a dual time element, and I was immediately drawn to The Daughters of Red Hill Hall by Kathleen McGurl – published for kindle on 14th April by Carina UK – when I saw it was touring with Neverland Tours. Mind you, I’ve been drawn to Kathleen’s books before – both The Emerald Comb and The Pearl Locket were already on my kindle (in very good company), and the tour was just the push I needed to actually read one. I’m kicking myself that it took me so long – this book was absolutely everything I hoped it would be…
There are a couple of elements I always look for in a dual time story, maybe the most important being that the modern story and the historical one need to be equally strong – and this lovely book certainly delivered on that. Kathleen McGurl is a natural storyteller, and the whole construction of this book is a joy. Both stories were of wholly equal weight, and very cleverly mirrored each other as Gemma in the modern story and Sarah in the 1830s each had their reasons to question the nature of friendship, loyalty and betrayal. It also made for less of a wrench between the two stories – the other element I always look for – as they moved forward along parallel lines, alternating between the two stories. If that all sounds contrived… well, it certainly doesn’t read that way.
This book grabbed me from its opening pages – a prologue where two women (Sarah and Rebecca, in the 1830s) lie pooled in blood in a cellar, their lives in the balance. The events that brought them to that point are the substance of the historical story. Rebecca is the daughter of the manor: Sarah is the child of the housekeeper, father unknown, taken into the household, destined to be Rebecca’s paid companion. Their lives and destinies take some wonderful twists and turns as the story progresses, all unexpected and totally involving, taking them from their childhood “sisterhood” to their adult relationship which proves to be rather different. The story is told through straight narrative and a fascinating combination of other sources – diaries, letters, newspaper reports – found by Gemma as she pieces together the story in the modern day.
The modern story is perhaps a little lighter at first as we follow Gemma’s relationship with long-term partner Ben, alleviating the boredom of her routine archivist work at a small museum with some research prompted by the discovery of a pair of jewelled duelling pistols – a refreshing change from the usual fossils – and her chance involvement with Red Hill Hall, now a plush wedding venue. But things do get rather darker – particularly when a friend turns out to be rather less supportive than it first appears.
The characters – major and minor, and in both time periods – are really well drawn, and the parallel stories that unfolded made this book a real page turner that had me totally hooked. Easy reading it might be, but with a pair of gripping stories that did have me gasping at times – and really well researched and written. If you’re a fan of the books of Rachel Hore, Susanna Kearsley or Kate Morton, as I am, then you’re going to really enjoy this one. This might be the first book I’ve read by this lovely author, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.
When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.
You can find out more at her website, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.