Author: Anna Romer
Thornwood House is the debut novel of Australian author Anna Romer, a haunting and gripping tale set in Queensland and spanning sixty years.
Audrey Kepler is the protective single mother of 11 year old Bronwyn. The two live in Melbourne until the death of Bronwyn’s father Tony means they need to vacate their house, so they head off to Magpie Creek to look over the property they inherited from Tony. They head off with no intention of moving there, it’s all just to check the place out and see how much work it needs before it goes on the market. It seems that’s not to be as Audrey feels an instant connection and Bronwyn makes her desire to take up residence clear.
I think a lot of Audrey’s initial reluctance comes from her deep-seated need for stability and structure, the move from Melbourne to Magpie Creek is a massive one. I also think that deep-seated need is part of what helps Audrey decide to relocate, Thornwood House is now hers so if she settles there it is a place to develop that stability and structure she desires so strongly. Audrey was brought up by her aunt and they were quite nomadic, never settling in one place for too long.
Audrey finds herself extremely restless at Thornwood and the more she learns of its history the more obsessed she grows. Thornwood has quite a checkered past and there is much tragedy in Tony’s family, none of which Audrey had ever been aware, and she ponders on more than one occasion whether she should stay except that by this point she is so invested in the mystery and uncovering the past that she couldn’t walk away.
The last resident of the house was Samuel Riordan, Tony’s grandfather, and Audrey finds herself haunted by him. Her digging leads to discoveries about Tony’s brutally murdered grandmother, a murder Samuel was accused of, and Audrey’s obsession embeds itself further as she is determined to find something to prove his innocence – if only to herself.
It is this mystery that gripped me, waiting to unravel all the twisted strands that lead us to the truth about Aylish’s murder. Along the way we discovered more mysteries, some which really came at me from left field, and there were always a couple of options as to who may have been the bad guy but Audrey never really doubted Samuel’s innocence.
The story was deftly plotted and moved along at a steady pace, I never lost interest and thought oh just hurry up but it did take me a little while to get fully immersed; though I think a lot of that is that there’s so much going on in my real world that it was difficult to find large chunks of time to devote to the book.
Aylish’s story was told through letters and that’s how we learnt a lot about Samuel. Tony came to life through the memories of the residents of Magpie Creek who knew him as a child and helped us to paint the picture of how he became who he did, and how we discovered he had a sister and what happened to her.
We slowly uncovered the complete story of Samuel and Aylish which lead to piecing together the life of Tony and his family but alongside it all was the story of Audrey finding her place in the world, discovery a sense of herself that had previously been missing and learning to broaden the scope of her life a little.
Thornwood House is a beautiful yet tragic tale which brings to life the fascination that can be found in old letter and diaries, forgotten links to a past that may never have been known. An amazing debut capturing the beauty of the Australian countryside and the fierce way in which it can be transformed into something dark and dangerous in the right conditions.
An exceptional debut that captures the interest with romance, history, mystery and suspense. I will certainly be keeping my eye out for more of Romer’s work in the future.