Now why on earth haven’t I read anything by Merryn Allingham before now? I’m delighted today to share my review of The Secret of Summerhayes, published by HQ on 27th July, available for kindle and in paperback. I thoroughly enjoyed this one…
A war-torn summer
A house fallen into ruin
A family broken apart by scandal…
Summer 1944: Bombed out by the blitz, Bethany Merston takes up a post as companion to elderly Alice Summer, last remaining inhabitant of the dilapidated and crumbling Summerhayes estate. Now a shadow of its former glory; most of the rooms have been shut up, the garden is overgrown and the whole place feels as unwelcoming as the family themselves.
Struggling with the realities of war, Alice is plagued by anonymous letters and haunting visions of her old household. At first, Beth tries to convince her it’s all in her mind but soon starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the aristocratic family’s past.
An evocative and captivating tale, The Secret of Summerhayes tells of dark secrets, almost-forgotten scandals and a household teetering on the edge of ruin.
Do you know, I sometimes say that I’m not a big fan of a historical story told in a straight-forward way – I always tend to look for a dual time thread, maybe a less conventional timeline. And then I read a lovely book like this one, and remember that I actually really do enjoy a well written great story, and all those little extras aren’t needed at all.
This book is a sequel to The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, which is still unread on my kindle (but maybe not for much longer…!) – I suspect reading it first might add to the richness of the experience, but there’s enough time separation between the two stories that the background is more than adequately covered within this book. The Secret of Summerhayes really has a bit of everything, with a central mystery, loads of intrigue, a murder, and a gorgeous romance, and the vividly drawn setting of the Summerhayes estate in a state of sad neglect. The story is set just before the D-day landings, Bethany is companion and carer to Alice in a few attic rooms, and the rest of the estate has been taken over by Canadian troops awaiting their call to action. All the characters are beautifully drawn, Bethany strong at the story’s centre – the villain of the piece is quite wonderfully villainous, the romantic lead one that makes your heart race, and the incidental characters equally fascinating in their actions and motivations.
The story’s a real page turner, the writing so smooth and easy to read, the historical detail plainly well-researched but included with a lightness of touch. This was a book I totally disappeared into for an evening and long into the night, totally losing any sense of time – and isn’t that a sign of something rather special? If you enjoy romance, suspense, and a vivid sense of time and place with beautifully drawn detail, you’re going to love this one – much as I did.
My thanks to publishers HQ and netgalley for my reading e-copy.
About the author
Merryn Allingham was born into an army family and spent her childhood moving around the UK and abroad. Unsurprisingly it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world.
The arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England, where she has lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.
Merryn loves history and in 2014 published her first historical suspense trilogy, Daisy’s War, set in India and wartime England in the 1930s/1940s. The series follows the fortunes of Daisy Driscoll, a working class girl from London. All three novels are now available – The Girl from Cobb Street, The Nurse’s War and Daisy’s Long Road Home.