|Date Published||26 July 2018|
The Story Keeper
Audrey Hart leaves London and her unhappy family home to work as a researcher of folk tales with the solitary Miss Buchanan in her fading stately home on Skye. She is drawn into the investigation of several missing girls, whose disappearance is treated with superstitious dread by the locals.
Audrey is charged with speaking to the local residents of Skye in order to gather, at first hand, folk stories and legends of the island. Unfortunately, at this time the aristocracy, supported by cruel and ruthless land managers, are actively driving the local population from their houses to die in poverty or to accept forced emigration to the colonies. As a result the local people will not speak with Audrey and she comes to rely on the support of young girls who are in service in the big house.
When a series of girls go missing and some bodies are found, the local people appear to blame supernatural forces, seeing omens in the swarms of birds which accompany the discovery of the bodies. Also populating the narrative are a series of suitably gothic figures, including the vicar, the overbearing and cruel brother of Miss Buchanan, some potentially sympathetic local women and Audrey’s own father and stepmother. With a presence that hangs over many of the characters is the spirit of Audrey’s mother, who died suspiciously on Skye, many years before.
This novel is written very skilfully, creating a brooding gothic atmosphere and interweaving the characters and backstories of the characters in a way that changes and changes again the perception of the way that the plot will unfold. I was particularly impressed by the fact that I also oscillated between believing that the story was a sinister whodunit or that it would unfold as a story rooted in supernatural explanations. This only became clear at the final denouement, and a very satisfying ending it was.
Reviewed 18 August 2018 by John Barnbrook