In the posting in April https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/2000-words-a-day/ I told of my chance meeting with the author Melanie Dobson and what I had learned of her writing discipline. I’ve now had a chance to read one of her books, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. As you can see from Melanie’s website (http://melaniedobson.com/books/shadows-of-ladenbrooke-manor/) it’s a romantic historical mystery.
It opens dramatically in 1954 with a great storm in the Bristol Channel, that smashes into the town of Clevedon and sweeps young Maggie out to sea. She is pregnant by a handsome French seaman who has promised to return, but hasn’t. She feels that drowning might be the answer – but she is rescued by dependable local journalist Walter Doyle.
It is difficult to summarise the storyline without giving away too much. It’s a story of generations and of patterns that recur down the generations – patterns like forbidden love. The story of Maggie and Walter and their family in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s alternates with happenings in the present day, as Heather Toulson arrives from America to sort out her late father’s cottage. This is in the Cotswold village of Bibury, next to Ladenbrooke Manor. The Manor belongs to the Croft family, but has been deserted by them since the mysterious death in 1970 of Lord Croft’s heir Oliver, found dead in the River Coln. Heather finds herself seeking out the truth about his death, and she also has shadows from her own past to cope with.
At first I had thought this type of story wasn’t really for me. But as I read it I found that I cared for the characters and I wanted to know what happened to them. This is especially true of Libby, Maggie’s daughter, a girl who grows up wholly absorbed in her own world, a world of colour and pictures, and who is never happier than when she is roaming the gardens of Ladenbrooke Manor, dancing with her friends the butterflies. Her portrayal, and that of her parents’ concerns for her and the problems she faces and causes, is beautiful and moving. I also came to admire the portrait of Walter Doyle, whose roles of husband and father are under unwanted strain.
The stories are cleverly interleaved, and the appearance and reappearance of secondary characters in the different stories shows careful plotting. I liked it. The author’s demanding writing discipline paid off!
The book is published in the US by Simon & Shuster. I’m not sure that Melanie Dobson’s books are published in Britain, but they are available on Amazon. ISBN 978-1-4767-4614-2