Monday, July 21, 2008

Guest Blog--Shadows & Lies

While browsing through the new books collection, I came across Shadows & Lies by Marjorie Eccles. I read the inside flap of the cover and decided to give it a try. The name Marjorie Eccles did not sound at all familiar to me. It was only later when I looked her up on the Internet that I discovered that she is the author of a series of books featuring detective Gil Mayo. BBC produced a television series based on Eccles’ books about Mayo, and I have actually seen a couple of the shows. He and his team are a bit quirky but have a certain charm. And they are set in Britain today.

Shadows & Lies is set in England and South Africa/Rhodesia at the turn of the twentieth century. The novel follows two different story lines. One is about the aristocratic family, the Chetwynds. On a stormy afternoon, Sebastian, the reluctant heir to the title and estate, sees a shadowy figure on the drive leading to the family mansion. The next day, the body of an unknown woman is found in a stream on the estate.

The other story is about Hannah who has been involved in an accident and has lost the memory of her recent life. She can remember her childhood and the years of her young adulthood but cannot remember anything from the more recent years. She begins to write down her memories of childhood in England and her life in Africa in an effort to recall who she is in the present.

The backdrop for much of the African story is the Boer War, while the story set in 1909 features the struggles of the suffragists. The Boer War is not one of history’s events with which I am familiar. This particular story focuses on the siege of Mafeking which is apparently the one well-known event that all British citizens were aware of at the time.

When Eccles talks about the struggles of the suffragists, she tries to give a picture of all sides of the issue. Most of the women involved in the fight to win the vote for women were upper class, privileged women with the time and means to devote to a cause. Many of them deliberately broke laws to ensure they were arrested and brought into the public eye.

A few, while in prison, refused to eat and were force-fed. I found it interesting that several times Eccles’ characters are appalled at the idea that the women would be force-fed; however, she never tells her reader what that entails. Yet, she doesn’t hesitate to talk about body parts spread across the ground and left in trees and on roofs in Africa.

At first I found it difficult to get into the story. It felt as if it moved too slowly and spent far too much time setting the backdrop. When I read a few novels by Jacqueline Winspear earlier this year, I had the feeling that a lot of the detail was included to impress me, the reader, with all of the historical research she had done on the era. The same thought crossed my mind as I read Shadows & Lies.

A person writing in 1909 would have assumed that we knew how the women were dressed and where their hems fell so would have spared us a lot of the detail. Perhaps the intricate descriptions of background and clothing appeal to some readers, but I have a tendency to want to get on with the story.

This story evolves into a very satisfying one. The characters are likeable and interesting. The people are three dimensional with strengths and flaws. The mystery’s conclusion held a little twist and was gratifying. However, in the end I was not really sure that women’s suffrage or the Boer War really had anything to do with the mystery. Rather, they were just interesting settings for the tale.


Blogger said...

I totally agree that lots of detail is boring. Snore.

notaconnoisseur said...

Now I am wondering what to read. I have a pile of mysteries waiting for me to open them up.