From the desk of Katie Jackson:
In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney teases Catherine Morland’s overactive imagination with a ghostly tale that, among other things, suggests that “the part of the abbey you inhabit is undoubtedly haunted.” Such is the brooding tone and setting of the atmospheric romantic mystery Shadows of Swanford Abbey, by popular Regency romance author Julie Klassen.
After two years traveling the country as a lady’s companion, all the while longing for home, clergyman’s daughter Miss Rebecca Lane has returned to her hometown in Worcestershire to aid her troubled younger brother John. Their housekeeper’s chilling warning—“Your brother’s behavior has grown more alarming. I fear what he might do.” (Loc 70)—occupies her every thought.
A gifted yet unsettled writer, John had become increasingly erratic following the deaths of their parents, and his temperament had grown even more volatile after an unfortunate incident involving his first book.
Rebecca’s arrival prompts John to insist that she present his latest manuscript to a famous author staying at the nearby abbey-turned-hotel, hoping for a path to publication. “The medieval stone abbey—the setting of many childhood nightmares” (Loc 286) was the last place she wanted to go. “Local children still considered Swanford Abbey haunted, inhabited by the spirits of long-dead nuns.” (Loc 290) With an uneasy yet familiar guilt spurring her to help her brother however she can, Rebecca reluctantly checks in to the hotel as a guest and looks for an opportunity to approach the man she seeks. Unexpectedly, though, she encounters the last man she wishes to see again. “Recognition jolted her. Not him. Not here. Not now. She swiftly turned her face away, praying he had not seen her. Too late.” (Loc 341)
Sir Frederick Wilford, recently widowed and long-ago jaded, fondly remembers his innocent friendship with the lovely clergyman’s daughter. Yet when a fellow hotel guest is murdered, Sir Frederick must put aside his affinity for Miss Lane and step into his role as local magistrate to investigate the crime. Suspicions abound as suspects are sought, and Miss Lane’s questionable conduct is not excused from the scrutiny. Will the childhood friends ever be able to step out of the distrustful shadows of their pasts?
The shadows depicted in this story are nuanced and numerous. It is a sensitive yet realistic depiction of mental health struggles, not only as a result of grief—from death, self-inflicted guilt, and estrangement—but also as a result of what today would be called a traumatic brain injury.
I have read at least a dozen of Julie Klassen’s books over the years, all of them enjoyable in their own ways, and this story was no exception. My only complaints are the slow pace of the story as the mystery unfolds and the subdued romantic elements; however, I appreciated the several unforeseen twists and the likeable protagonists. I particularly enjoyed the historical details woven into the narrative, and the gothic feel of the haunted abbey setting.
Romantic mystery fans are sure to relish the haunting ambience as secrets are revealed in Shadows of Swanford Abbey.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Shadows of Swanford Abbey, by Julie Klassen
- Bethany House Publishers (December 7, 2021)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (416) pages
- ISBN: 978-0764234248
- Genre: Historical Suspense, Inspirational Fiction
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2021; text Katie Jackson © 2021, austenprose.com.