The Good Wife's Castle by Roland Vernon
|The Good Wife's Castle by Roland Vernon|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: It might start like a Midsomer mystery, but The Good Wife's Castle is a darker place altogether. Deceptively simple.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: April 2012|
|Publisher: Black Swan|
We start with a father's suicide, a child watching as he steps of the chair in the milking room with the noose around his neck. A father who died for shame.
Another time another place, an immense benediction. Granville St Clair is Rector of a rural Dorset parish. He is happy in his work and his environment. He is also blessed by what he chooses to call a benediction – but his wife thinks might be the onset of some sort of mental illness – the occasional sudden overwhelming clarity about the one-ness of everything. You might think that if anyone is allowed to 'see God' then an English country man-of-the-cloth should be somewhere near the front of the queue?
But Edwina thinks that Alzheimer's, schizophrenia or a brain tumour are more likely. Then again, Granville's wife feels a bit hard-done-by. He seems to be content almost to spite her. Rectories aren't what they used to be back in the glory days. Number 3 Tennyson Terrace part of the tail end of a medium-priced, brick housing development built at speed for a quick profit in the mid-1980s was not what Edwina imagined when she married her intense academic gorgeous young theologian. The Bishop's palace would have suited her much better. Their marriage survives on a diet of quiet resentment spiced by barbed comment, leavened with unspoken challenges.
Or maybe it survives on the firm footings of a love that they each remember from time to time.
Out walking early one morning, Granville encounters a newcomer to the village: a foreigner, who has taken a cottage at its edge and keeps himself to himself. His life and that of Piet Steyn (the man in question) become intrinsically linked because of that chance meeting. As they cut across what remains of the estate of the Old Rectory, a glance into a lit and uncurtained room showed a naked figure, climbing a stepladder. As they watched Bertie Gosling, city gent, very rich and current owner of the place, dropped suddenly from the ladder some four or five feet, and came to a stop at the end of a rope...
It transpires that Bertie's wife and family are away, but he is not alone. There is a pretty young girl in the house. Distraught by events, as you would imagine. And because this is the beginning of the book, you just know that our upstanding churchman is not going to do the sensible, obvious, right thing to do and call the police.
Not until he's rescued the girl anyway.
So it begins: a story that could easily meander into Midsomer Murders territory. Gentle rural crime.
Until we find out what is at the bottom of Piet Steyn's garden.
The Good Wife of the title is Rose. Her castle is below ground. She's been there a long time, but she is finally learning how to be a good wife... in between her prayers and bible study.
We find out. Granville does not. He befriends Steyn and does all he can to bring him into the heart of the community. Some of the community already have dark suspicions – based on no more than his foreignness – or maybe on instinct?
The atmosphere is suddenly dark, claustrophobic and full of menace.
Vernon keeps up the intensity by restricting his attention to a few main characters and their interactions. The reader gets to see all sides of the story, which the players clearly don't. A scene has been set and there are only a given number of ways in which it can play out.
Ignoring the twists and turns, plays and counterplays, that many another author might deploy, Vernon simply holds the reins of his story taut and lets the inevitable slowly creep forward.
Harsh cut-away flashbacks give us hints as to how Piet has come to be who and where he is. Granville's story is told more gently through his own memories. The contrast is made between each wife's relationship with her husband (Edwina and Granville; Rose and Piet); just as their different approaches to their God are analysed and dissected: the fervent being harsh and cruel, the compassionate being hypocritical, and seemingly no way through the minefield.
Covers and blurb are notably unreliable at giving you a clue as to whether you'll enjoy a book. Quite often they set you up for a disappointment. Every now and again, you ignore them and quite by chance find yourself so enmeshed in the world of the book that you're not just staying up at night to cram in a chapter or two, you're sneaking time off work to finish it.
The Good Wife's Castle is one of those.
It is a deceptively simple plot deftly woven into an atmosphere of religious piety of the most private, most dangerous kind. It goes to the very heart of morality and questions what it means to be good. At times elegiac in its rendering, at times banal, at times brutal, it simply takes hold and doesn't let go.
For another dark modern 'castle' try the book of the same of name Castle by J Robert Lennon- more broodingly dark doings hidden away, in a different place entirely but with a distinctly similar atmosphere.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Wife's Castle by Roland Vernon at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Wife's Castle by Roland Vernon at Amazon.com.
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