Predicted to be a smash hit, this gothic thriller by Lauren Owen is a mystery tale about a brother and sister from Yorkshire. The story moves between Aiskew Hall – where we first meet Charlotte and James as children – and London; both settings atmospheric, both drawn so clearly you can smell the air. This book will reward re-reading: only after I had finished the last page did I go back to the beginning and appreciate the menace of the first sentence, “There were owls in the nursery when James was a boy.”
Aiskew is ever-present. When they are older and far from home, Charlotte reminds James “… how the air smelled green in spring, and smoke-grey in autumn, how on April mornings the mists would lift slowly, leaving a blue haze behind.”
This book has a really slow build. It starts with a prologue, an excerpt from 1890, which I read and then immediately forgot. I enjoyed Part One about the childhood of James and Charlotte at Aiskew, their mother dead, their father absent, Charlotte teaching James his alphabet by chalking the letters onto flagstones, playing games in the secrets of the big house. When the siblings are parted as James goes to university and then to London, the story starts to move a little quicker. I started to feel expectant, waiting for something to happen. Which of course, it does, and it is creepy and not what I was expecting. For me the story really gets going when Charlotte comes to London. After that, the action comes thick and fast. The tension in the second half is more like a film, making the first part of the book feel as if the author was feeling her way into the story.
Definitely one to read again. And I can see it on television.
To read what Lauren thinks about family secrets, click here.
‘The Quick’ by Lauren Owen [UK: Jonathan Cape] Buy now
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