The Secret of Pembrooke Park
By Julie Klassen
Bethany House, 2014
Abigail Foster is the practical daughter. She fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry, and the one man she thought might marry her seems to have fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
Facing financial ruin, Abigail and her father search for more affordable lodgings, until a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play...
The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem acquainted with the manor's past, the only information they offer is a stern warning: Beware trespassers drawn by rumors that Pembrooke Park contains a secret room filled with treasure.
This catches Abigail's attention. Hoping to restore her family's finances--and her dowry--Abigail looks for this supposed treasure. But eerie sounds at night and footprints in the dust reveal she isn't the only one secretly searching the house.
Then Abigail begins receiving anonymous letters, containing clues about the hidden room and startling discoveries about the past.
As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?
Several factors make Julie Klassen's writing stand out in the Christian fiction genre - the quality of the writing itself; rich historical detail; ability to vividly convey a feel and sense of place; and a realistic touch when it comes to customs, manners, dress, and social strata of the Regency era. I have greatly enjoyed every one of Julie Klassen's novels that I've read so far, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park is a welcome addition to her repertoire.
Great Chalfield Manor - Wiltshire, England
The story is set in Berkshire, 1818, at Pembrooke Park, inspired by the impressive Great Chalfield Manor in Wiltshire, England. At 456 pages, the pacing seems slow at times, but that's actually a trait of Julie's writing that I enjoy because this isn't a story I would want to rush through. Spreading my reading out over several days allowed me to immerse myself in the story, savoring the English setting and characters.
I've read enough mysteries in my lifetime to appreciate how well Julie handled this element. While not a traditional gothic romance by any means, I loved how a few gothic elements were carefully scattered throughout - a secret room, steps in the night, objects misplaced, pages from a journal, sightings of a mysterious cloaked figure. And what a mood setter is this description of the drawing room through Abigail's eyes: "It appeared as though the occupants had just been called away. A tea set sat on the round table, cups encrusted with dry tea. A book lay open over the arm of the sofa. A needlework project, nearly finished, lay trapped under an overturned chair." As with any jigsaw puzzle, all of the pieces must be present in order to see the complete picture - and Julie was very effective at laying out one piece at a time, until everything beautifully came together at the end.
It was refreshing to see such intelligent and compassionate characters as William and Abigail, and I was drawn to them immediately. Abigail, who had always stood in her sister's shadow, grows emotionally in a way that readers will love. I liked how the relationship between Abigail and William started out as friendship and grew into something more over time.
All Saints Parish Church - Great Chalfield Manor
The parish church and William as curate feature prominently in the story and I especially enjoyed the worship scenes and spiritual insight of William's sermons. Themes that are gently woven throughout - like greed and its far-reaching effects, the treasure of friendship, righting wrongs, making restitution - certainly speak to all of us. I thought Abigail's words at the end captured the essence of this story:
"Ah, the weary wonder of this life. Of faith. And family. And friends. The truest treasures we can ever know or possess."
The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a wonderful story and I eagerly await Julie Klassen's next novel. Highly recommended.
Click on the titles to see my reviews of Julie's two previous books, The Dancing Master and The Tutor's Daughter.
Julie Klassen loves all things Jane--Jane Eyreand Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She has won three Christy Awards in the Historical Romance category for The Silent Governess (2010), The Girl in the Gatehouse (2011), and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (2012). Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Connect with Julie online at julieklassen.com or Facebook.
Thank you to Bethany House for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.