Yorkshire, 1845. A woman disappears overnight from her home. Her husband is distraught. All that remains of her is copious amounts of blood on the bed. The local police are inept. This is the first mystery in a series of new amateur sleuths, the three Bronte sisters, in The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis.
I loved this book from the beginning. Bronte fans will love it but anyone new to Bronte will find it an engaging introduction to the three clever and inspirational sisters. What a fresh idea to involve Charlotte, Emily and Anne in an occupation that suits their imaginations, attention to detail and energy. Anne says, ‘It is truly terrible that I am a little thrilled to think of us as three invisible lady detectors seeking out the truth? I believe we could be quite the only such creatures in all existence.’
Their characters are clearly drawn and their engagements with other characters – brother Branwell, father Patrick, cook Tabby and maid Martha – are all convincing. The case of the vanished bride comes to their attention because the governess to the two small children of the missing woman is none other than Matilda French, a former schoolfriend of Charlotte and Emily at Cowan Bridge school.
As they track down clues and bravely confront strangers to ask questions, the three sisters must learn to manage the wilder leaps of their imagination and use judgement to analyse clues, sifting, comparing, discarding. At first their naivety while charming, is a problem, as they tend to believe everything they hear. But they soon wise up to the disreputable agendas of others and become adept at setting trick questions, analysing body language, and basically not believing everything they are told. Stepping outside their comfort zone at Haworth, they venture into worlds not usually frequented alone by unmarried women. Though obviously a fictional not historical account, it is an interesting picture of the real world limitations they faced.
Owing not a little to the gothic, their detecting involves folklore and supernatural elements, a wonderful journey to the seaside at Scarborough to find a witness, and thrilling night time excursions involving a little breaking and entering. Throughout it all, their clergyman father is ignorant of their ‘detecting’ and the risks they take, and they become adept at soothing his concerns at their odd behaviour.
Author Ellis [aka novelist Rowan Coleman] has been a Bronte fan since childhood and this is demonstrated in her knowledge of character, setting and historical context. In the Author’s Note, she explains her choice of August 1845 for this first novel. Charlotte has returned home from Brussels to join Emily while Branwell and Anne are home again from employment at Thorp Grange. It is the first time for several months the four are under the same roof. The characters, the settings, are pure Bronte; the detective story is Ellis’s own.
To set the timing of The Vanished Bride within the context of the Brontes’ real life, it takes place a year before their first publication – of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell – in 1846. In 1847, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey, were published.
Excellent, one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.
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THE VANISHED BRIDE by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4uY via @SandraDanby