The Crimson Rooms by Katherine McMahon
Publication Date: January 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group
(Received for review from Berkley NAL)
Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Books-A-Million, IndieBound
If you live in Morehead, KY or the surrounding area:
Purchase from our local independent bookseller: CoffeeTree Books
Borrow from our local library: The Rowan County Public Library
Katherine McMahon on the WEB: Website, Blog
Excerpt from The Crimson Rooms
Synopsis (Book Blurb):
Still haunted by the death of her brother, James, seven years ago in World War I, Evelyn Gifford is shocked when a young nurse named Meredith and her six-year-old son appear on her London doorstep. The child, Meredith claims, is James's son, conceived in a battlefield hospital shortly before his death. The grief-stricken Gifford family welcomes the child, who is the spitting image of James. But Evelyn, a struggling attorney, must now support her entire family on her salary - at a time when work for female lawyers is virtually nonexistent.
Suddenly a new case falls into Evelyn's lap, though winning appears hopeless. Stephen Wheeler - a veteran charged with murdering his young wife - seems destined to die on the gallows. Nicholas Thorne, a dashing lawyer, offers to help Evelyn prove Wheeler's innocence. Though she is needled by Thorne's moneyed background and old-fashioned attitudes, she agrees. For Evelyn suspects her client is truly innocent, just as she suspects there is more to the story of "nephew" than meets the eye...
The Crimson Rooms is a novel that has a lot to offer the reader. Katherine McMahon does an excellent job of weaving a complicated story that will draw the reader in and hold them tight as the novel unwinds. This novel set in post World War I, London is filled with social injustice, a suspenseful murder mystery, family drama and even a bit of romance mixed in. McMahon's writing reminds me of the great Anne Perry, it's descriptive, yet has an old-fashioned feel to it. A great mystery tangled up with a lot of emotion and moral issues.
Evelyn Gifford is still reeling from the death of her brother during the war. Although the money set aside for his education fell to her and she was grateful. Evelyn has had the opportunity that few English women are afforded, she studied at Cambridge and earned a law degree. She now has a job a prestigious firm, but she is subject to the taunts and ridicule that befall women in a job that traditionally belongs to men. Evelyn is shocked when a woman shows up on her doorstep with a little boy she claims belongs to Evelyn's dead brother, James. Evelyn who is left to provide for her family on her own, is sure that there is more to the story of Edmund and her brother, but she is also dealing with two cases that she's been given.
The first is a case of woman who has been desperately trying to get her children back when they are taken because she is poor. Evelyn learns a lot about the London poor and the social injustices of the world with this case. She is also involved in a high profile murder case, of a young soldier, Simon Wheeler who is accused of murdering his wife, Stella. Evelyn is joined on the case by a handsome barrister named Nicholas Thorne who captures her heart even though he is engaged to a wealthy socialite. Evelyn is torn in many ways as the novel progresses and she begins to uncover evidence that shocks her about the cases and within her own family. Everything is not what it seems.
I really enjoyed this book. McMahon has created a novel that mixes mystery and suspense with historical fiction. Set in the 1920's, The Crimson Rooms gives off an aura of stepping back in time as readers begin to feel the desperation that the English people felt right after World War I. Their children returned home maimed in body and spirit and the overall feeling of the times was somber, McMahon really portrays this through Evelyn's attitudes. She seems almost muted in a sense at the beginning of the novel. Wracked with pain over losing her brother, yet she was resolute in taking care of her obligations to her family.
Evelyn was such a great character. She has been forced to take over the role of provider for her family but instead of going an easier route, Evelyn decides to take the road less traveled and become a lawyer. Being one of the first female lawyers in London would have been no simple task. She is tenacious and determined to overcome the prejudices against women in the tradition of the law. She leaves no stone uncovered when she is investigating and trying to find evidence to prove her client innocent, yet she shows vulnerability by falling for an engaged college and feeling drawn to a boy who resembles her dead brother. The characters are very well developed and believable, McMahon character development was excellent.
The plot moved at a reasonable pace. With this many irons in the fire it isn't a book that could have been rushed. The pace feels natural and the conclusion is anything but what reader will expect. There are many twists and turns in this one that will certainly keep you guessing. The author deals with a lot of themes in this book, including social justice, murder, family issues and moral integrity. I thought she brought everything together beautifully and I look forward to reading more from Katherine McMahon in the future.
I recommend this one to mystery lovers, but to historical fiction lover's as well. It has all the suspense of a good whodunit along with a wonderful old-fashioned feel.
The Crimson Rooms is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
Katherine McMahon is the author of seven novels, including the British Book Awards, short-listed The Rose of Sebastipol. She is a student of English and Drama and has always combined performing in local theatre with teaching and writing. She's convinced that her knowledge of theatre seeps into her writing, so that she tends to view chapters rather as scenes. She has two daughters and a son and lives with her family in Hertfordshire.