Note: I received this copy of The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House by Stephanie Lam for free through Goodreads First Reads. The opinions and thoughts I share in this review are my own.
I was delighted to receive this copy of The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House through the post as it was one which greatly appealed to me. I was shocked to discover on it’s arrival that it is an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), so I am not allowed to post any quotes from it – much as I may wish. At a little over 500 pages, this paperback book is rather thick but surprisingly lightweight with reasonably sized but not overly large text. I especially enjoyed the floppiness of the pages – it was a joy not to have to wrestle to open a book! The cover is somewhat sedate and rather dignified but striking – I adore it.
The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House is a story set in two different time periods. The scene is set in the seaside town of Helmstone, a place with sharp cliffs, holidaymakers, day-trippers, a fairground and a hotel – among other things. Chapter one begins the story in 1965 with the main character of that period Rosie Churchill. She is a young woman in her late teens and run away from home and sixth form to rent a bed in the rundown yet still beautiful Castaway House in Helmstone. Castaway House though has its secrets. Rosie is soon set on discovering who the mysterious ‘R.C’ is; a drawing of a man with the initials ‘R.C.’ is found wedged behind some skirting boards, a mysterious message is discovered carved and inked into the frame of a window and whispers of trouble years ago come to Rosie’s ears.
In 1924, a young and somewhat naïve nineteen year old Robert Carver makes his way to Helmstone to stay with his wealthier, older and more exciting cousin Alec at his beautiful home, Castaway House. He arrives to find that Alec has married, walking straight into the lives of a damaged, un-loving couple with far-reaching secrets. Little does Robert know that his summer at Castaway House will change his life and the lives of all he comes in contact with.
At 500+ pages, The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House rather intimidated me upon first glance. Once I started reading however I was hooked. The story is written in the first person, from the viewpoint of either Robert or Rosie depending on which year the chapter was set in. I think the span of time covered in both 1924 and 1965 was only a few months; the summer of 1924 and sometime from September in 1965 although there were links between the two. The story was brought to life by the author’s words. The characters were wonderfully flawed and exquisitely human. No one was perfect and each had characteristics and traits and got into situations that you could easily understand, feel and relate to.
This book was very much set in the UK – Helmstone sounded to me like the seaside town of Brighton on the south coast of England. There were also many mentions of the 1st and 2nd world wars. In 1924 and 1965, both would still be very near memory to the population. Many would have lost parents, bothers, cousins, uncles or sweethearts in the fighting. There would still be reminders, especially on the coast – shops previously used as lookout posts and maybe a pier destroyed so it couldn’t be used to land enemy planes.
The story of Castaway House and its inhabitants in both 1924 and 1965 were linked wonderfully, with little tendrils of knowledge and hits at answers – and even more questions – coming throughout the story. The way the author intertwined the characters throughout the book and between 1924 and 1965 was magnificently done and I am completely in awe. I was kept guessing throughout the majority of the book until the full story was told and the characters truly unveiled. I will admit to making a few guesses which ended up evenly split between right and wrong!
The mystery of Castaway House and its inhabitants was one which touched many lives. I was completely enchanted and thrilled with the story and characters and didn’t want to finish reading. Unfortunately I had to in order to find out what had really happened.
This book is one I will keep going back to and will loudly praise to all who will listen. Why? Because it’s bl**dy brilliant.