Skip to main content

The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, A Plotting Duchess & A Family Secret by Catherine Bailey

I'm back AND I've been reading!  The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey is the latest non-fiction book I've read from start to finish which is something that should be applauded for me.  Non-fiction and I don't always get along.  I'd initially read a review of this book some place, and I thought, hmmm, that sounds interesting.  I added it to my reading list (yes, I have a reading list... it is very long), and recently one of the libraries acquired a copy, so when I saw it pop up on the New Titles list, I requested it.  And I am so glad I did because this book has so much: intrigue, secrets, mystery, cyphers, and more mystery thanks to three deliberately created gaps in the ducal family's extensive historical archive.  But what does it all mean?  And what are the secrets this family is hiding?  And why are they hiding them?  Let me tell you, readers, the lengths this dude went to cover up his secrets...  while he was largely successful in covering up the family secret, which remains cloaked in the mists of history, his personal secret regarding his military service during wartime was sussed out by this intrepid and determined detective/researcher of an author.  There is family drama, a meddling mama, overwrought tensions between parents and child, and animosity and estrangement between same parents and child.

Bailey begins research on a book that will examine wartime England in 1915, specifically wartime on the Belvoir estate, the ducal seat of the Duke of Rutland.  When Bailey's research uncovers an unfortunate and curious gap in the family's correspondence that covers the very months she's researching, she is mystified and disappointed.  Further digging uncovers another months long gap in the family's correspondence in 1894 that abridges the harrowing and tragic months that include those preceding and those following the death of the heir to the dukedom and then another gap in correspondence is discovered in 1909.

Her research stymied, her book impossible, Bailey's purview takes a turn.  Who excised these months long gaps of letters from the family's vast archival holdings?  Could it be the same duke who painstakingly organized, archived and cataloged these same holdings that encompass 800 years of family papers, correspondence, history, estate rental logs, visitors' logs, other estate records and documents of national importance?  Why would he do this?  What did the gaps conceal and why was it concealed?  For Bailey, the only conclusion can be that it was the duke who excised the material, that it must be a secret pertaining to him, and that it is most likely that the subsequent gaps all date back to the original secret concealed by the first gap--that in some way each gap's secret relates back to the first gap.  And while Bailey succeeds in piecing together the secrets hidden by the latter gaps, the one that remains hidden by the first gap can still only be theorized about based upon conjecture gleaned from the few letters that remain extant relating to 1894.

Bailey's new focus uncovers a family tragedy shrouded in mystery, complex and difficult familial relationships, estrangements and family secrets not to mention intrigue (oh, the intrigue) on the part of the meddling duchess.  Upon further extensive research, analysis, and examination of the events and correspondence surrounding each of the three gaps, specifically the one occurring during the Great War, extreme intrigue, plotting, and manipulation of epic national proportions is brought to light.  For example, there is a rather long section of the book that details the machinations of, at times, up to five individuals conspiring to manipulate the duke's heir (who is later the duke who excised the correspondence gaps) to bend to their will for the good of the dukedom.  What is revealed over the course of the book is a dark portrait of a dysfunctional family crippled by the grief of a terrible tragedy.

The story is at its best when the author is on the research trail piecing together correspondence, events and family dynamics surrounding and during the gaps and expounding on analysis of what this means to the overarching story of the mystery of the events that the gaps conceal.  Later sections of the book get bogged down in battlefield detail and the machinations and manipulations occurring in the months leading up to the third and final gap.  Ultimately, this is a highly engrossing, fascinating read, and I recommend it for those who enjoy reading about history, aristocracy and family intrigue and secrets.

--Review by Ms. Angie

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Broken by Karin Slaughter

Before I begin the formal review there are a few things I need to get off my chest in the wake of finishing this book; I'll do so without giving away too many (or any) spoilers.
The OUTRAGE!: the identity of Detective Lena Adams' new beau; the low depths to which Grant County's interim chief has sunk and brought the police force down with him; agent Will Trent's wife, Angie's, sixth sense/nasty habit of reappearing in his life just when he's slipping away from her. Thank God for small miracles though because while Angie was certainly referred to during the book, the broad didn't make an appearance. One sign that I've become way too invested in these characters is that I'd like to employ John Connolly's odd pair of assassins, Louis and Angel, to contract out a hit on Angie; do you think Karin Slaughter and John Connolly could work out a special cross over?
Hallelujah: Dr. Sara Linton and agent Will Trent are both back. There is no hallelujah for…

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

When the end came, it seemed to do so completely out of the blue, and it wasn't until long afterward that I was able to see that there was a chain of events leading up to it. Some of those events had nothing to do with us, the Morrisons, but were solely the concern of the Pyes, who lived on a farm about a mile away and were our nearest neighbors." from page seven
I must confess that it took me longer than it really needed to in order to finish the novel Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. The entire story is building up to the big catastrophe that forever destroys all the hopes and dreams the Morrison clan ever dared to hope and dream for its future. In the eyes of the narrator, it is even worse than the tragedy of the car crash that claimed both parents' lives one evening on the heels of some good news the family has received and celebrated. Now you can see why I dreaded getting to the end of a book that drips in foreboding like nobody's business. What can be a worse tra…

In The Woods by Tana French

"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with the truth is fundamental, but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies ... and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely ... This is my job ... What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this--two things: I crave truth. And I lie." opening lines of In The Woods chapter 1, pages 3-4
In The Woods by Tana French, an Irish writer, is an extremely well-written and well-crafted mystery novel. The downside is that this is French's debut novel, and her website (located at http://www.tanafrench.com/) does not offer any insi…