Now a successful costume designer, orphaned Gwen Rowland has come a long way. While all her family has fallen victim to either drugs or alcohol, she is sober, grounded, and relatively normal. So with Christmas approaching and her relationship with terminally typecast actor Alfie approaching the five month mark, she isn’t shy in voicing her desire to join him and his family for the holidays. But usually easy going Alfie is strangely hesitant to bring Gwen along. Christmas is the only time he sees his motley mother and fours older sisters and it’s an awkward and pleasure free visit for him. It is when he envisions Gwen spending yet another Christmas by herself that he relents. Considering her past Gwen couldn’t be more excited for a family Christmas at Creak Hall, the family’s Tudor mansion in Norfolk. However even Alfie doesn’t know how quickly her enthusiasm will wan upon arrival, when it immediately becomes apparent to Gwen that the estate isn’t the only thing that is rundown. There are secrets behind the mentally broken mother, Alfie’s affected affection for her, and an odd family photo – secrets that only Gwen can reveal.
Doesn’t the mystery at Creak Hall sound deliciously gothic? Regardless of the premise I was delighted when Linda Gillard asked if I’d be interested in receiving a review copy of her latest erelease, House of Silence. I devoured Emotional Geology and Star Gazing and her consistently smart writing and fully-fleshed characters are the only recommendation I need to read anything she writes. In this case though, I liked the foreboding sound of the title, the ominous clouds and traditional British estate on the cover and the Cold Comfort Farm meets Atonement meets Rebecca tagline. You don’t meet one of those books every day, so it was with piqued curiosity and hopeful anticipation that I picked it up.
Suspenseful and interesting, I can see the similarities to those works but House of Silence stands firmly on its own two feet. Gwen and Alfie drew me in from the start. How they meet and the development of their relationship made me want to know more about them. Could Gwen be as well-adjusted as she seems? How will Alfie rise above the towering shadow of his mother’s popular Tom Dickon Harry books? Beyond the main characters, Alfie’s dysfunctional and misfit sisters are just as well characterized. Capable Vivien, hopeful Deborah, cold Fanny and young-at-heart Hattie are all memorable and endearing in their own way. True to the old traditions of English estates, even the gardener Marek is part of the family’s Christmas festivities. Rugged, mature Marek does not disappoint, neither does the dash of quilting and cello-playing, or the well-paced family mystery, which unfolds piece-by-piece and is surprising and satisfying at every turn. An unconventional mix of drama, mystery, and romance, House of Silence is a page-turner that will surely please many different kinds of readers. It’s a shame that it was overlooked by publishing houses but I’m very glad Linda Gillard had the confidence in her story to go the ebook route because it was definitely warranted. The only novel of hers I haven’t read is A Lifetime Burning and I will be rectifying that soon.