The Kept by James Scott

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The Kept by James Scott

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A novel set in late 19th century America about love, secrets, revenge and forgiveness. It's devastatingly powerful and astoundingly good, although there's the possibility that I'm underselling it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Hutchinson
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0091944506

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Elspeth and her 12 year old son Caleb have been beset by one of the worst types of tragedy. As a result, fuelled by Caleb's need for revenge and Elspeth's motherly love, they set out on a journey that brings them to the small Lake Erie town of Watersbridge. With their new setting comes a greater understanding of their past which is a mixed blessing that must be met head on before they have to face their future.

James Scott has been fascinated by American Victorian gothic art for a while so it's not that remarkable that a particular painting grabbed his imagination and wouldn't let go. What is remarkable is the fact that his imagination created a back story for that scene of a small boy, wiping snow from a prostrate girl's face and created something that's as wow as this. He's also made my job incredibly difficult!

My problem is that I'd like you all to be as knocked sideways as I was by the impact of James' novel so I have to be very careful what I reveal.

The shock starts right at the beginning as the author devastates us with his vivid, powerfully sparse prose. If your house is a state when you return after leaving spouse and youngsters alone, you just wait till you read Elspeth's experiences. Our hearts go out to young Caleb and, despite what we ultimately learn, to Elspeth. (Indeed that's one surprise that will come at you totally out of the stadium, let alone left field!) It's easy to see why, out of all the characters, these two remain deservedly centre stage.

In between Elspeth and Caleb interacting with the lovely hotel owner, Frank, the touchingly troubled Charles and London, the malignant bar and brothel owner, we're taken back through Elspeth's and Caleb's memories to the very root of the destructive secrets they keep from each other. (Just one facet of the very clever title.)

Gradually we're given the glimpses that will provide the whole picture, initially encouraging us to turn the pages from curiosity and then ultimately because we can't bear to leave these people without learning their fate.

The author switches between shock and subtlety, writing brutal and sad with the same covert manipulating mellifluence but also showing us hope, love and redemption, not to mention high adventure. In fact it kept me up late into the night as I replayed the ending and those chapters leading up to it over and over again in my mind.

The setting may be wild-west-like (if you understand what I mean, despite it being geographically more wild northish) but please don't let deter you if you're a wild-western-hater. Although James evokes the day-to-day perils (gunshots regularly signal the reduction of value in a life and the ice company demonstrates what people will do in order to feed a family for instance) the themes go way beyond one era or, indeed, one town.

Methinks that Mr Scott had better start writing an award acceptance speech as he could well have many opportunities to use it. This is a debut novel that no one is going to forget in a hurry, but then why would anyone want to?

A huge vote of thanks goes to Hutchinson for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you enjoy being knocked sideways by American historical fiction, we also recommend the excellent The Purchase by Linda Spalding.

Buy The Kept by James Scott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Kept by James Scott at

Buy The Kept by James Scott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Kept by James Scott at


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