Author: Luke Devenish
The Secret Heiress is an historical novel set across two distinct timelines a generation apart in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is an Australian novel and I must admit to finding the look back at our country in that time period fascinating.
I am quite lost as to where to start this review, and how to continue it for that matter. There are so many dark and twisted roads to travel, so many suspenseful turns and possible explanations that it would be easy to unwittingly add spoilers and I would really rather avoid that.
I read an advanced uncorrected proof thanks to Simon & Schuster which has a letter from author Luke Devenish to readers of the proof. It tells us a little of the inspiration and gives a little background. Summersby House is a fictional mansion at the heart of the story but it was inspired by real houses Devenish visited.
In 1886 young Ida Garfield is employed by the elegant Miss Matilda Gregory to begin work at Summersby House but before she can start the news reaches her that Miss Gregory has passed away. Not on to be deterred from a path that seemed heaven sent Ida attends the funeral hoping that someone will still want to employ her at Summersby House. By all accounts Ida isn’t a bright girl, all the brains went to her younger sister Evie and the money Ida will earn in service will go to furthering Evie’s education; what Ida lacks in brains is more than made up for with inquisitiveness. She asks many questions and is always trying to learn new things, I think she is brighter than she’s given credit for and it’s just that hers is a different type of bright.
Ida attends the funeral, hoping someone will still want her at Summersby. Samuel Hackett, fiance of the late Miss Gregory, expresses the need for a housemaid – and a friend. She heads straight to Summersby to begin her duties as housemaid.
Summersby is not at all what Ida was expecting; for such a huge house it is extremely understaffed and that is only the beginning of the odd happenings.
The reading of the late Miss Gregory’s will uncovers a secret deception and brings home the rightful heir to Summersby House, her twin sister Matilda. Things started to get a little twisty here. The two Miss Gregorys were Matilda and Margaret, and it seems this second will states that the deceased Miss Gregory was really Margaret, and Matilda has been incarcerated since the death of her father. A situation that is quickly rectified with Matilda returned to Summersby with her ladies maid Miss Aggie Marshall.
The second timeline in 1903-1904 sees young Biddy Macbryde, an imaginative storyteller, lose her employment with the Reverend Flowers. Her storytelling gets her in too deep one time too many and with no family to return to she sets off aimlessly in need of a new plan. A plan that sees her end up at Summersby House and eventually employed as a companion.
Flicking between timelines is quite well spaced and with both storylines based in Summersby House you find yourself with questions and answers from opposite times which is quite intriguing in itself.
The whole situation with Matilda and Margaret got a little too much for me at times, I couldn’t work out who was who and who we were supposed to be referring to. I was sure there were a couple of instances that the incorrect name was used, and put it down to the fact that my week has been pretty all over the place so could be my headspace or it could be because I was reading an ARC.
The Secret Heiress is intriguing and engaging from start to finish. I had to keep reading to find out what was really going on through it all. There were hints dropped but they weren’t always clear at the time and you needed to continue to find where the pieces fell together.
There is deception on deception and it continues to raise more and more questions about who was in on what, and who was deceiving who.
I loved the intrigue, I loved the twins and the way they were integral to the story. I love Biddy, who is a fanciful storyteller with a story for every occasion yet abhorred dishonesty and lies, always wanted to get to the bottom of a situation and uncover the truth.
There are twists upon twists contained in this book so I’m hard pressed trying not to spoil it. There were some elements of the story I guessed early on but the bulk of it really did hit me from left field, or left me wondering how on earth that could possibly be because it didn’t match up with what I thought because of something else that had happened.
The characters are well drawn and three dimensional in the moment but there’s not a lot of back story – which is exactly how it needs to be to continue the intrigue.
The look at the time, and the town and the setting is glorious. I can’t believe that in a small town where gossip abounds all of this managed to go on right under their noses, but that was addressed in the beginning by the sometime cook Mrs Jack when she said they were a law unto themselves up at Summersby House.
The Secret Heiress is an interesting, engaging, vivid and twisted historical look at the dark goings on in Summersby House and I would recommend it to all.