From the desk of Sophia Rose:
First, Julie Klassen pulled me into her writing with a haunting, gothic romantic suspense, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and most recently delighted me with the world of a quaint English village and its occupants in her series, The Tales of Ivy Hill. In her latest release, Klassen wrote a romantic suspense that is slightly darker, splitting the setting of an island estate on the Thames and London. I love a good murder mystery, and setting it in the Regency period had me taking up The Bridge to Belle Island prepared for a reading treat.
Young lawyer, Benjamin Booker, has just experienced a humiliating loss in court when the client he thought innocent had charmed him into risking all to defend her and it turned out she had utterly lied. He feels that he has disappointed his mentor at the firm and took a hard hit to his confidence in reading people and situations. However, he soon has the opportunity to prove himself to his mentor, Mr. Hardy, when Mr. Hardy wants justice for the death of his former colleague at the firm who lately held the position of trustee for the Wilder family and was murdered in their London Town House.
Living retired from the rest of the world on Belle Island, Isabelle Wilder has seen a great deal of tragic death in her family and it has left her with an extreme fear that won’t allow her to leave her island family home for years now. She is sorry to miss her niece’s engagement party in London because of her own weakness. The night of the party, Isabelle has a terrible dream that their skinflint trustee was murdered. She is dismayed when Mr. Booker, a skeptical lawyer from the family firm, shows up both to sort their legal matters brought on by the death of her trustee, but also to investigate the death with her as the chief suspect. It was a dream when she saw vivid images of the death, right? She has nothing to hide, she hopes, so welcomes Mr. Booker to Belle Island and invites him into her life there where he starts to mellow toward her until disturbing facts start to come to light leading right to her door.
There is a lot to unpack when I look back on this story. It has two main characters, Benjamin and Isabelle, who took turns narrating. They are well developed, likable and yet flawed in their own ways. Isabelle is in deep fear of dying in a tragic way if she leaves the island as a result of not coming to peace with the past loss of parents and sister, her only close family with the exception of her beloved niece. Benjamin struggles with the issue of inadequacy because he was never good enough with his father like his over-achieving brother and because he isn’t interested in the family medical practice. This is where the inspirational element is strongest as they work through their issues and learn to rely on their beliefs and promises in Scripture to aid them to overcome their issues.
The attention to the historical background and the island setting was well done as usual. I enjoyed learning about life on the island estate that was on the Thames. The growing of the willow reeds for the basket weaving that was their prime income besides the sheep herd was fascinating but never tedious. There is also focus on how criminal investigation was handled in those pre-CSI days and on trusteeships and their effect on single gentlewomen.
The murder mystery is front and center at different times and I enjoyed the clever twists and turns it takes as Benjamin gets to the truth. The murderer and motive took me by surprise. I was just starting to get a glimmer when the big reveal moment came.
As to the romance, it’s a slow burn one and doesn’t come completely into the open until near the end. It takes a back seat to the mystery, to personal and spiritual growth, and even to family. But it’s there subtly strengthening in the background until it’s time to shine near the end. Some might prefer the romance to be more overt and show itself much earlier, but I thought the pacing and development worked well for this story.
All in all, The Bridge to Belle Island was a superb read. Julie Klassen is a deft hand at taking the reader back to the Regency Era with her engaging characters and the gentle flow of the story that passes quickly leaving the reader well-satisfied but still wanting more at the end. If you love sweet Regency Romance with strong inspirational flavor but want the spice of a cunning murder mystery, this book is for you.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2019)
Hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook (400) pages
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Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2019; text Sophia Rose © 2019, Austenprose.com