Waterlogged trench in WWI
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great Death has made all his for evermore.
In 1916, Captain John Hallows is reported killed in action in the Flanders fields of World War One. His death is only the first piece in a puzzle that takes decades for his daughter to ascertain the identity of her parents and the roles played by the constellation of people surrounding the events of this novel. At several points she feels she has all the pieces only to find a new fact that keeps her life a kaleidoscope of distorted images never quite forming a crisp, clear picture she can trust. As she unravels the truth from a nest of misdirection she discovers that...Everybody lies, everybody lies, everybody lies...,
When Lieutenant Tom Franklin arrives at the Hallows manor house Moengate to recover from a shattered shoulder he received at the Battle of the Somme, he really was looking forward to meeting the wife and family of his good friend John Hallows. He doesn't find the pastoral English country setting he was expecting. The house is full of people, and oddly none of them are related to one another. With the death of Captain Hallows the strings attaching everyone together have been severed.
Lord Powerstock is Captain John Hallows father. The Victorian age had vanished and left him, beached and bereft, in a world he no longer understood, where grief was merely a metaphor for all the sensations of his loss.
Lady Olivia Powerstock is the 2nd Mrs. Hallows and is in all sense of the phrase a gold digger. Previously married to a painter Olivia is a woman lacking sexual restraint and has a feral capability that makes her dangerous to anyone associated with her. She has a steady stream of convalescing soldiers to seduce and does she ever seduce them. With Mae West curves accented by expensive, delicate, lingerie she finds few men can refuse her.
Leonora Hallows is the wife of Captain Hallows. A beautiful widow that does not lack for suitors. She reveals that she is pregnant and as everybody starts counting on their fingers and discovers that Captain Hallows has been dead too long to be the father; the plot becomes murky with speculation. She is being blackmailed by Ralph Mompesson, but not necessarily for the reasons one might think.
Lieutenant Tom Franklin soon falls in love with Leonora, barely avoids being seduced by the temptuous Olivia, and finds himself a mere pawn in the games of the household residents.
Ralph Mompesson, the rich American arriving under a cloud of suspicion. He is the lover of Olivia, but is intent on seducing and marrying Leonora. He is so antagonistic that he makes enemies of everyone and when he ends up dead no one mourns his passing and everyone has motive. The suicide of a mentally war wounded soldier on the grounds after the murder provides easy closer for the case, but it is far from over. The investigation into the murder of Mompesson leaves more questions than answers. It made me think of the show Foyle's War
where it seems so trivial investigating a murder when so many are being murdered on the fields of battle across the channel.
Charter, John Hallows Grandfather, with the death of his grandson has lost all claim to his place at Moengate. He seems to be everywhere, an affable old man, a fly in the ointment that Olivia for one would like to see the last of, who knows much more about everything than what he is willing to tell.
Now as I said earlier everyone lies in this novel, some to cover up their own guilt, some to protect those they think are guilty, and some just for the bloody hell of it. Half way through the novel all that I thought I knew was wrong. Three-quarters of the way through at least fifty percent of what I thought I knew was wrong. It is only when the final pieces are fitted together near the end that I could walk away from this novel at least thinking I know who, what, when and where. Excellent pacing in this novel and certainly brilliantly plotted and conceived. I'd tell you who done it, but then that wouldn't be any fun at all now would it?