Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Shivering Sands: Review

I got my first taste of mystery/romantic suspense when my grandma sent me Hunter's Green by Phyllis A. Whitney in a box full of books (what treasure trove also included favorites such as The Mystery of Hunting's End and Laddie: A True Blue Story). I'm not sure that Grandma intended to launch me on a reading journey that would take me through most of Whitney's books and lead me to her contemporary, Victoria Holt as well as other Gothic mystery/romance novels. Once started on a genre, I would often devour what books our local Carnegie Library had on the shelf....including The Shivering Sands (1969) by Victoria Holt. Years later I picked up a copy of my own and now the Birth Year Challenge gives me a chance to read my own copy.

The Shivering Sands finds Caroline Verlaine, young widow of the musical genius Pietro Verlaine, looking for a means of support. Pietro may have been magical with the piano, but he was no financial wizard and Caroline's small income needs a bit of bolstering. She was once a promising young pianist as well, but gave up her ambition in her love for Pietro. Now she teaches piano. Her sister Roma, an archaeologist following in their parents' footsteps, disappeared while on a dig for Roman remains on the Stacy estate along the coast of Kent. When the opportunity opens up for Caroline to teach piano to four girls connected with the estate, she grabs it--both for the needed income and for the chance to investigate her sister's disappearance. 

Of course, Roma's disappearance isn't the only mystery surrounding the Stacy home. Years ago, Napier Stacy killed his handsome and popular brother Beaumont in what has been called an "accident." But there are those who think Napier was too envious of the near-perfect Beau and may have wanted him out of the way. His father did want Napier out of the way--to the extent of sending him away because he didn't want to be reminded of the tragedy. That is...until Sir William wants Napier to come home, marry his ward Edith, and produce an heir. Then lights are seen flitting about in the memorial built for Beau and there are those who say that Beau has come back to haunt the brother who murdered him. There's also Sir William's sister Sybil who pops in and out unexpectedly and says the most unnerving things to Caroline and others. Sybil also seems to be far more informed about Caroline's movements than anyone ought to be. 

Suspense builds as Edith also disappears--shortly after announcing that the long-awaited heir is on its way--and Caroline is nearly killed in a fire. She doesn't know who to trust--the girls she has been teaching all seem to be keeping secrets and, though Caroline finds herself intrigued by and attracted to Napier, he is after all the black sheep of the family. What if he really is destroying his family one by one? And what if Roma stumbled onto a secret that made her death a necessity as well? It looks like Caroline might be next if she continues to ask too many questions.

It is interesting that this appears to be a historical novel, set at a guess during the late Victorian period when travel is by train and horse and trap and the girls talk of wearing their hair up when they reach a certain age. There is also a lot made of Caroline and Roma's education--being more like that of boys than is normal for their sex. But there are no overt references to time period and it doesn't seem that Holt spent a great deal of time researching the period. Much more is made of the setting and descriptions of the estate than of the time in which this all takes place.

It is easy to see why this appealed to my pre-teen self. Lots of atmosphere and Gothic elements to investigate with hints of romance that are quite as heavily infused as some mystery/romantic suspense novels. Caroline isn't quite the investigator that she imagines herself--stumbling on things rather more than deducing (and playing the Gothic suspense heroine who keeps going about alone and getting herself into trouble way more than necessary). Still, a great deal of fun and the culprit proves to be unexpected. ★★

This fulfills the "Spooky House/Mansion" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

J.G. said...

It sounds quite exciting, with lots of characters and false suspicions. Holt used to be very popular, back in the day, and apparently for good reason!