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Book Review: “The Secret Rooms,” by Catherine Bailey

24 Jan

18079634Genre: mystery; non-fiction; WWI

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com]  “After the Ninth Duke of Rutland, one of the wealthiest men in Britain, died alone in a cramped room in the servants’ quarters of Belvoir Castle on April 21, 1940, his son and heir ordered the room, which contained the Rutland family archives, sealed. Sixty years later, Catherine Bailey became the first historian given access. What she discovered was a mystery: The Duke had painstakingly erased three periods of his life from all family records—but why? As Bailey uncovers the answers, she also provides an intimate portrait of the very top of British society in the turbulent days leading up to World War I.”

My Book Review: I rarely pick up bookpage, and when I do I am always reminded of why I usually don’t read it (there aren’t many of their recommendations of books that I would want to read). But occasionally I do come across a nonfiction book or two that catches my eye, and The Secret Rooms was one of these. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest time in reading a 60 chapter non fiction book cover to cover if it wasn’t going to be as interesting as it was cracked up to be. But I was wrong.

I’m listening to the theme music from Downton Abbey, and there’s a reason for that. If you are a lover of that famous miniseries, you’ll probably like this book! The blurb on the back cover says it reads like an Agatha Christie, but I disagree. It’s more like Nancy Drew meets Downton Abbey.

This book was SO hard to put down, and I often don’t say that. I found myself mesmerized all through breakfast and picking it up to read a page in my spare moments. I kept telling my mom the newest part of the story that I had read, so she heard it in episodic installments.

When author Catherine Bailey set out to write a fiction novel based on real life people who lived through WWI, she decided to do research at the archives of Belvoir Castle. She already knew plenty of WWI history, so when she discovered missing info. in an otherwise meticulously kept family library, her curiostiy took hold and a whole different book project began. This non-fiction work is the result of her findings.

Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall

Every chapter leaves you on the edge of your seat. One question leads to another even more mysterious. Dukes, Duchesses, a haunted castle, lies in a chapel, gold dusted letters, ciphers, rumors, mysterious illnesses…

I can’t believe all the work and minute research the author went to put together the missing pieces of the puzzle and make this story as complete as she could. It was an amazing story of a sad family in desperate times. The story of the Manners family is one of Dysfunction with a captial ‘D.’ I won’t give away any spoilers, but I kept thinking that this was one twisted family living without the light and peace of God in their lives, especially the mother.

There is one thing I felt disappointed about and that is that there were 3 ‘mysteries’ (or, gaps of missing info in the family archives) that the author set out to solve. She did, to the best of her ability but the first two didn’t make a whole lot of sense of why these events had been kept so secret. I’ve read complaints that the mysteries weren’t very exciting once discovered, and I could see where one could make that case. However, the book was so much fun to read anyway, that I didn’t much mind. The actions of some of the real life players in this family drama were certainly unbelievable. It was the process of reading an intriguing true-life mystery that was the most fun.  I also appreciated  that a goodly portion of the book is dedicated to pictures, some of them slightly eerie, which definitely gave some visual context to what I was reading.

If you’re in for a blizzard, or a few days of sick leave, this one is for you! It’s one of those good reads that I lamented nearing the end of.

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Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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