Helmstone 1965 (modelled a lot on Brighton with bits of Ramsgate and Broadstairs thrown in)
18 year old Rosie Churchill has run away from home and everything she knows to rent a bed in the rundown Castaway House. What she runs into however is a world of mystery and intrigue – for whose are the initials of R.C apart from being her very own? and what is the mysterious words carved into a windowframe?
1924 – nineteen year old Robert Carver makes his way to Castaway House to stay with his wealthier, older cousin Alec. The house that appeared so run down and in disrepair was once the epitamy of glamour – ornate and a place of dinner parties and gossip. There is also a great deal of intrigue however as he soon finds that Alec has married and the house he walks into is not the house he thought he would see, The summer he spend there will change his and others lives forever.
Although Helmstone is fictional, we believe it to be set in or around Brighton since this is where the author lives and having spent time there, it is very easy to picture the cliffs, holiday makers and the stunning yet imposing castaway house on the rocky crag face.
There were also many mentions of the 1st and 2nd world wars – certainly in both 1924 and 1965, neither war would be a distant memory to anyone – and Brighton would most likely have felt the memories and affects more than any place -one that would have acted as a coastal look out?
There is something about a mysterious house on a hill which towers over a town and watches over the people, keeping their and its own secrets behind thick wooden door and heavy bricks.
Castaway House was very well titled – for it cast me away on a reading oasis that I did not want to wake up from – it was very cinematic and evocative of location and even though Helmstone was fictional I feel I have been there and know it well – such was the skill of the writer.
The star of the show was the one setting described and evoked so differently that was a booktrail favourite, It was like holding a old black and white photo over a modern setting – you’ve seen the art shots I mean but never before have I seen this evoked in words in quite the same way and a scene which flits back and forth to the same spot for maximum impact.
The difference is as stark as silk and rough taffeta – Alec is trying to project an image of glamour and a privileged world with ladies who wear silk before switching to the poorer sixties where the texture of society as well as the clothes is somewhat darker and rougher. There was no rough friction slips between the two time periods however and the overall effect was smooth and effective.When they converge – the effect is quite something!
A dark story of twists and turns aplenty – Robert and Rosie are two such characters I was really taken with – what with their place and hold over Castaway house – the house with a character of its own and I would say that the house itself is the most intriguing character of all.
The rest of the cast – for that is the feeling I had with this book – a mysterious and eerie story being played out in all its glory with the backstage moments, off side remarks and a feeling that for now at least some of the plot spoilers were missing – that is until Stephanie chose to reveal them slowly and one by one.
As is apt with a dark and ruined house set against a backdrop of remote rocky cliffs, this house does not give up its secrets easily and you are left in the dark until the time is right. You might think you know what to expect creeping around a dark house at night but there are many many surprises in store.
Lastly a note has to be made of the gorgeous and sumptuous cover – the silk, the hue of riches and glamour….velvety to the touch as well. This book really is one to feed the senses.
See the debut author here – @stephanielam1