Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Challis

Protagonist: Daphne du Maurier
Setting: Cornwall
Rating: 4.0

Sometimes you're in the mood for an old-fashioned mystery. This is it -- with a twist. The protagonist is a young Daphne du Maurier, the real-life gothic author. And the events in this novel form the inspiration for her masterpiece, Rebecca. Daphne -- or the fictional version, at least -- is 21 and not interested in finding a husband, despite the pleas of her parents. Instead, she wants to go to Cornwall and explore the old abbey, the manors and the medieval inns. Her family insists she stay with Ewe Sinclaire, her mother's old nanny. But even safely ensconced, murder finds Daphne as she walks the cliffs of Cornwall.

She hears screams, and comes across the body of a young woman, who turns out to be the fiancee of Lord Hartley of Padthaway, a gothic mansion full of secret passageways and closed rooms (think Manderlay). Is the killer Lord David Hartley himself, his strange sister Lianne or their icy-cold mother? And what about that creepy housekeeper? As the person who found the body (and a person of society), Daphne is welcomed to Padthaway, becoming friendly with Lianne and catching the eye of the brooding Lord Hartley. But what interests Daphne the most is solving the mystery. Rather than being afraid of the gothic mansion, she eagerly embraces the secrets of the old house -- and the family. She's fearless, outspoken and confident -- quite unlike the main character in Rebecca.

You don't need to have read Rebecca to enjoy Murder on the Cliffs, although there are a few lines that will resonate if you've read the classic. This is a modern gothic, with an engaging heroine. Challis' second book, Peril at Somner House, will be out in October. It's one I eagerly await.

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