Wiltshire, 1922. Fifteen-year old Pudding Cartwright has begun the career she always wanted, as girl groom to the Hadleigh family's horses at Manor Farm. Irene Hadleigh is struggling to adjust to her new life in sleepy Slaughterford, having married Alistair to escape a scandal in London. At a loss to occupy herself, Irene sets about restyling Manor Farm, and during the work the chance finding of a strange object, hidden away in the house for years, will change everything.
When somebody close to both of them is murdered, Pudding and Irene are thrown together to seek out the identity of the killer in their midst, unaware of just how deep the roots of the crime lie.The Hiding Places is a delicious 400 page read which truly immerses you in a bygone world full of vivid characters and tangles you up into a gripping story of a violent death and a dark past. Essentially it has all the ingredients for a perfect read with which to treat and indulge yourself. I do like a story with appealing characters and a family full of secrets where the ramifications of all the lies have much more far reaching consequences than anyone can imagine.
From the opening I knew I was going to be rewarded with a very satisfying tale.
"Death was common enough, in Slaughterford. But not this kind of death."
What a name - Slaughterford. Isn't that alone enough to wet your appetite?!
I loved The English Girl Webb's previous novel and was happy to find myself back amongst her words, her description and her characterisation. Webb has a great ability to capture people through small details which reveal more about their personality, effortlessly breathing life into them until they are clearly pictured in your mind.
Pudding is endearing and immediately likeable. She is a strong character and she is bright. She has a lovely relationship with her family, particularly her brother who has been ill since his return from the war. The sub plot of Donny, her brother, and his role as the novel continues is very well handled and once more reinforces the historical and social setting of the novel. Webb has chosen a moment in history which is rich and interesting and a perfect backdrop for the her story. It allows her to add several layers to a plot that she weaves expertly across the whole of the 400 pages.
Despite the restrictions of the time and society, Pudding felt like a woman ahead of her time and a character that would resonate and appeal to a contemporary audience. I liked the relationship between Pudding and Irene - it's an unlikely but very satisfying friendship. But I think my favourite character was Irene. I loved the description that Webb used to introduce her and convey the sadness or apathy for the situation in which she finds herself - newly married yet not in love, privileged yet not happy.
"...the long day yawned ahead of her, a void to be filled..."
Irene is detached and caught in limbo as she finds herself in a new home, new marriage and with a new role but she's unable to fully embrace this new life as she is still taunted and haunted by the recent past she is trying to escape. A sense of grief delicately lingers over her.
"...her courtship with Alistair had been far more a case of him picking her up and setting her back on her feet, rather than sweeping her off them..."
I really enjoyed Pudding's description of Irene when she first meet her. There is a lot of resentment or prejudging towards Irene before anyone at the Manor meets her which reflects the social attitudes of the time as well as introducing the tensions that will unfold as Irene tries to integrate herself into the house. Having heard a little from Irene's point of view it is exciting to see her through the eyes of another character and this description not only creates a fantastic image of Irene but is also a great example of Webb's delightful writing.
"....[Irene had] the kind of elfin delicacy that Pudding longed for. Her dark hair was cut into a glossy bob across her ears; her eyes were similarly dark, with smudges underneath them, stark in her pale face. And there was something so immobile about her face, something so frozen that Pudding couldn't imagine her laughing. She was like a china doll, and quite unreadable....."
There was something of Irene and her husband's aunt, Nancy, that reminded me of the relationship between Du Maurier's Rebecca and Mrs Danvers - or perhaps Maggie Smith's character in Downton Abbey. The aunt is fierce, controlling, domineering and quick to point out Irene's failings or her new responsibilities.
"You're a Hadleigh now, young lady. And Hadleighs set the standard around here."
I found Irene very easy to relate to and very easy to empathise with. The sense of her restlessness and an underlying sadness is well captured and then contrasts very well when the drama of the novel begins to build towards it's gripping and exciting climax.
I loved the moment that triggers the 'change' and sets the story off on a course of discovery - the revelation of a doll found up a chimney.
"blackened, dishevelled, incongruous amidst the dreck, was a doll"
For me, this was truly chilling. Apparently signifying "witchery in these parts", the appearance of the doll is frightening and I thought it was a really inspired moment in the story. It is highly memorable and is haunting me from beyond the page! This discovery does indeed mark a "change" and from here on in, the reader can settle back for a story of friendship, heartache, jealousy and revenge. Absolutely great stuff.
I do enjoy Webb's writing and I do enjoy her stories. If you are a fan, this will not disappoint. There are some fabulous characters to watch and this is a great historical drama to relish. Enjoy!
The Hiding Places publishes on the 4th May with Orion.
I was born in Kent in 1977 and grew up in rural Hampshire before reading History at Durham University. History remains a passion, and I write character-led mystery dramas, often with historical settings. I love to explore the way past events can reverberate in the present, and I'm fascinated by the vast grey areas in human morality and behaviour.
My debut novel 'The Legacy' was voted viewers' choice for Best Summer Read on the Channel 4 TV Book Club in 2010, and was nominated for Best New Writer at the National Book Awards in the same year. Subsequently, 'The Unseen','A Half Forgotten Song' and 'The Misbegotten' were all Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers, and my books have been translated into 24 languages around the world.
And don't forget to look me up on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or at bibliomaniacuk.co.uk for more reviews and recommendations!