I’ve been waiting quite a long time to share my review of The Slow Death of Maxwell Carrick, the latest book by Jan Harvey, published by Matador, and now available as an e-book (for kindle via Amazon, and via iBooks) and in paperback (with signed and dedicated copies available via the author’s website). You might remember my review last year of her debut novel, The Seven Letters – you can read it again here, together with a lovely interview with the author. I found that book something rather special – a page-turner with real originality, the strongest of story-telling, a historical background that was just fascinating, with stark and searing images that are indelibly etched in my memory. So when Jan asked me to be an early reader of her new book, to share my thoughts and maybe provide a quote in advance of publication, I couldn’t have been more delighted. And if I enjoyed her first book, this one moved things up a further few notches – this is a book I really loved.
Retiring from a life in the media, journalist Martha Nelson finds herself feeling lost and struggles to adapt to her new, quieter life. When a local history group asks her to compile a book about her village, Martha stumbles across the dilapidated ruin of Lapston Manor and her curiosity is piqued. There is talk of an unexpected death, a change of ownership and a mysterious shadow of a woman called Madame Roussell. The journalist in Martha is intrigued.
As World War Two draws to a close, the residents of Lapston are visited by the mysterious and very beautiful Cécile Roussell, who has come from Paris to visit the home of her beloved ‘Henri’. Henry’s family and their companion, Maxwell Carrick, are in awe of her but all is not what it seems and the family is torn apart by the very visitor they welcome to their midst.
The two stories cleverly intertwine as Martha searches for the truth, but what risk will this pose to her own marriage and future happiness?
This was a dual-time story where both its threads, expertly entwined, totally enthralled me. The writing is quite superb – the characters vivid and real, the relationships authentic, believable and simply fascinating in all their unpredictable twists and turns. I totally identified with Martha in the modern story – and liked her very much – while Carrick’s borderline unreliable narration in the historical thread is so very well done.
The modern day story captures perfectly that post-retirement feeling of being without purpose, the day-to-day routine, the taking for granted of a long-term relationship, the losing your way, the attraction of the different and exciting despite its danger. But I equally loved the historical thread, and Carrick’s story – where the relationships between the really well-drawn characters are blown apart by the arrival of Cécile with her mesmerising presence.
I’m always won over too by a story with a strong sense of place. I rather liked the fact that we find out the later history of Lapston Manor fairly early on – and really enjoyed the way the story fleshed it out, brought it vividly to life, the house almost becoming another character.
The escalation towards the end of the historical thread was so well wrought, with its dramatic and unexpected climax, a wonderful combination of smoke and mirrors. And the drama is reflected beautifully in the modern story too, with its perfect and satisfying ending.
Love and obsession across the years, an emotional and beautifully told story of treachery and deceit – a doomed family, a decaying house and its secret history, and a contemporary story that equally captured both my heart and my imagination. I adored this book.
About the author
Jan Harvey was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire in 1961. After a career as a magazine editor/designer working on various business publications she became an author five years ago.
The Seven Letters, her debut novel, sold worldwide and has had stunning reviews. Her second book, The Slow Death of Maxwell Carrick is now released and has already been highly praised. The two books are linked by Paris, the city that inspires her work.
Jan is also an artist and illustrator and enjoys creative activities of all kinds. Her lifelong passion for all things equine is reflected in her artwork. She campaigns endlessly against animal cruelty in all its forms.
Living in the Cotswolds with her husband Paul and very badly behaved Flat-coated Retriever, Byron, Jan enjoys country walks and being with her family.