Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Secret Rooms - Catherine Bailey

The Secret Rooms
Title: The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery
Author: Catherine Bailey
Publication Date: 11/1/12
Pages: 450
How I Found It: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Date Completed: 5/25/15

Summary: A real-life historical mystery takes off in a manor house in Britain. There, long sealed rooms full of meticulously catalogued family correspondence and records hold some dark secrets for one of England's noble lines.

What I Thought: This book ended up being both more and less interesting than I expected. More, in that the idea of mysterious hidden histories of British noble families felt delightfully Downton Abbey to me. Less, in that Bailey dragged on a bit in divulging those secrets.

In doing research for a different project, Bailey discovered holes in family records at Belvoir Castle, the family home of the Duke of Rutland. There seemed to be three distinctly defined gaps, each during the life of the ninth Duke, John. John had died in the archival rooms after spending his last days alone there, frantically trying to complete his life's work of cataloging the files. After his death, his son Charles, the tenth Duke, ordered the rooms closed for the next six decades. By the time of Bailey's research, she was one of the first to explore the files in generations. 

The missing sections she discovered sparked her interest and led her on a chase through history and historical records. In the book, Bailey takes the gaps one at a time; each seemed to indicate a deliberate attempt by John to hide some part of his family's history. Of what could he possibly have been so ashamed that he would create carefully carved holes in the family's records? The Secret Rooms follows Bailey's journey to answer that question.

The first mysterious gap kept me the most engaged. The final seemed hardly shocking at all. I won't reveal any of them, because not knowing is certainly what keeps you reading. I will say, particularly by the last third of the book, Bailey's investigations become mired in military strategy and procedure, a topic far less interesting to me than the death of a young heir. I still found the process of discovery interesting, but the reveals were far more interesting early on in the book.

If you are a history buff, particularly an anglophilic one, you will certainly enjoy the book. It does have some decidedly slow parts, but Bailey, overall, does a nice job during the research process into a near adventure story. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Unlikely

A Reduced Review: In this nonfiction report on her research, Bailey brings dark family secrets and long forgotten plots to life again. 

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