At first glance an epic tale of love and family secrets, Mortonís sweeping novel crosses continents from Australia to England, in the process giving us a symbolic rendering of the lives of three different women separated by time but not necessarily by place. Laden with bittersweet mystery, the novelís central focus is on dark secrets of Blackhurst Manor, the grand aristocratic Cornwall estate where the Mountrachet family has lived forever, ensconced
in the limitations of Victorian propriety.
The furtive events that took place in Blackhurst almost a century ago have an unlikely connection to Brisbane in the year 2005, where Nell Andrews lies on her death bed, her life almost at an end. For most of her life, Nell has been defined by a series of unanswered questions surrounding her past and why, in 1913, she was left abandoned on a sailing ship bound for Australia with only a silver buckled white leather suitcase in her possession.
While a book of childrenís fairy tales published in London in 1913 remained inside the case, Nellís granddaughter, Cassandra is left to unlock the mystery of Nellís past and the memory of how her
grandmother spoke about a woman whom she called ďthe Authoress.Ē More surprisingly, Cassandra discovers that Nell has gifted her the deed to a secluded Cornish cottage set atop an isolated cliff, complete with a hidden walled garden.
Traveling to London then into the village of Tregenna on the outskirts of Blackhurst Manor, Cassandra is
immediately overwhelmed by the circumstances of her visit as she tries to retrace Nellís steps when she, too, traveled to the area in the early 1970s.
Here Nell and Cassandra try to knit together their blood and their past, along with the mystery behind Nellís unknown parentage, her arrival as a child at an ocean port in Australia, the suitcase, and the unexplained secret house.
As Cassandra and Nellís search steadily unfolds, Morton plunges us into a world filled with Victorian menace. From London and on to Cornwall, ďthe AuthoressĒ Eliza Makepeace struggles to survive
following the death of her brother, Sammy. After escaping a piecemeal existence in the mist-filled streets of Battersea, sheís forced to endure the shivering landscapes of Cornwall and the shady machinations of Adeline Lady Mountrachet. Adeline fears Eliza is nothing more than a cuckoo and an interloper, sent back to Blackhurst by her husband, Linus, to supplant her daughter Rose and to push her from the nest that Adeline has fought so hard to make her own.
The die, however, is cast, the imposter here to stay at whatever cost. As Eliza forms an ardent friendship with her beautiful but sickly cousin, Adeline proves that she will stop at nothing to protect her daughterís marriage to handsome artist Nathaniel Walker.
These pitiless manipulations of Adeline give this rather over-long novel much of its dramatic heft as the gradual unfurling of Nellís true parentage gradually comes to light.
Packed with genealogical indexes and hidden scrapbooks, Elizaís fairytale stories, and the strange secrets of the forgotten garden perched on the edge of the world, much of this story is encapsulated in the fear, uncertainty, and excitement of Eliza and Nell. Regardless, it is Cassandra who ultimately triumphs, becoming the consummate detective as she learns to let go of her own demons and rise up from the complexities of Nellís life to claim her own inheritance.