The Secret Heiress is a rich, historic fiction book set in Castlemaine, Australia in 1886 and 1903. The novel is by screenwriter, playwright, author and academic, Luke Devenish. The latter is no stranger to writing about history as his two previous books were set in Ancient Rome. His latest offering is a rather mysterious one set closer to home.
The novel is told in two separate, interwoven parts. Initially we meet Ida, a naïve farm girl who is offered an amazing opportunity to work as a housemaid at the exquisite, Summersby House. Ida accepts the job because it’s a great opportunity for a poor girl who has been told that she’s not very bright. It’s possible that her intelligence was not given its full credit because she is a rather inquisitive young lady nonetheless.
Ida has a rickety start at Summersby. Her mistress, Miss Gregory is found dead on Ida’s first day. But Ida perseveres because she hopes that someone at Summersby will still want to employ her. That somebody proves to be the charming and handsome gentleman, Samuel Hackett and the former fiancé of the late Miss Gregory who wishes for Ida to continue her work at the stately home. Things initially seem okay but then a serious of mysterious events start taking place and these contribute to a rather strange and vivid mystery entangling all of the characters.
The other main thread in this book stars Biddy MacBryde, a young lady with a cheeky disposition who works as a Reverend’s kitchen maid. Her big mouth sees her fired and eventually she is lured to the elusive surrounds of Summersby where she is employed as a friend/companion to one of the residents. She also possesses a natural curiosity for the house’s inhabitants and what she discovers is a rather complicated story entrenched in the past.
Luke Devenish’s prose is well-written but there are moments where it is a bit too detailed and flowery for its own good. The novel is a sprawling and ambitious one that is engaging. But there are some moments where it is a tad too confusing and difficult to understand- namely where the identities of the twin sisters, Margaret and Matilda Gregory are described. The characterisation is rich but the names are too similar and the structure is a little too messy and this can confuse some readers. Thankfully this is all resolved eventually in what is a rather neat and satisfying ending.
The Secret Heiress is a complex book filled with layers of lies and deceit. It’s an interesting story and Devenish should be commended for setting a dark and gothic tale in Australia. There are some minor problems that let this book down but ultimately it is quite a dark and stirring read set in an opulent house and grounds. Nice.
***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-the-secret-heiress