When forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is asked by a dying client to find out what happened to his great aunt, who disappeared in 1911, Morton doesn’t expect to find his own life threatened. The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin is a moreish combination of mystery, history about the pre-Great War period, and family history research.
If you like Downton Abbey, you will identify with the 1911 sections about Morton’s great aunt Mary Mercer. In an effort to escape her rough, unemployed father and unpleasant mother, Mary takes a job as third housemaid at Blackfriars, a great house at Winchelsea in East Sussex. Little does she realize the love and heartache she finds there will shape her life. A dreamer who imagines she is the lady of the house, Mary has a rude awakening on her first day at work. She had no idea what the job of a chambermaid entailed. But the presence of her cousin Edward makes life easier to bear. When her parents fall ill, Mary gives them all her wages and so loses her chances of escaping to a better life.
Goodwin knows the Winchelsea and Rye area so well that I immediately felt I was there. His descriptions of Rye, where Morton lives and work, feel real: the streets, the old houses, and the Mermaid Inn are described with a light pen.
The story is told in two strands. Morton searches online and at local archives, and visits the real Blackfriars house, now open to the public. This story alternates with Mary’s in 1911. Goodwin weaves the two tales together so as we get nearer to the truth of Mary’s disappearance and why her mentions in all official records stop – did she die, was she killed, did she change her name and run away to Scotland, or emigrate – the threats on Morton’s life, and that of his partner Juliette, get serious. The mystery in both strands build as the family connections between past and present are revealed. I did not forsee the ingenious ending.
The Morton Farrier books are excellent. Although the cover designs are a little old-fashioned, don’t let this put you off reading them. Read more about Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s books at his website.
Here’s my review of the first Morton Farrier book, Hiding the Past.
‘The Lost Ancestor’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin, #2MortonFarrier [UK: ND Goodwin]
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