Thursday, January 21, 2010

Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Challis

Murder on the Cliffs: A Mystery featuring Daphne du Maurier by Joanna Challis

From the publisher:

"Young Daphne du Maurier is headstrong, adventurous, and standing on the cusp of greatness.

Walking on the cliffs in Cornwall on a dark and stormy day just after the Great War
has finally come to an end, Daphne stumbles upon the drowned body of a beautiful woman, dressed only in a nightgown, her hair strewn along the rocks, her eyes gazing
up to the heavens. Daphne soon learns that the mysterious woman was engaged to marry Lord Hartley of Padthaway, an Elizabethan mansion full of intriguing secrets.

As the daughter of the famous Sir Gerald du Maurier, Daphne is welcomed into the Hartley home, but when the drowning of Miss Victoria Bastion turns out to be murder, Daphne determines to get to the bottom of the mysteries of Padthaway -- in part to find fresh inspiration for her writing, and in part because she is irresistibly drawn to the romance of grand houses and long-buried secrets.

Murder on the Cliffs is an enthralling mystery that gives fictional life to the inspiration behind Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca."

my thoughts:

Inspired by her love of Daphne du Maurier's gothic mystery, Rebecca, Joanna Challis' mystery novel, Murder on the Cliffs, is a tribute to the famous author and her beloved novel. This is the first installment in a new mystery series featuring a young du Maurier at the center of the action as she embarks on her writing career.

I was immediately drawn to this book when I saw the intriguing cover of the forbidding mansion along the rocky sea reminded me of the setting of so many of the Victoria Holt romantic suspense novels I used to enjoy that were often set in Cornwall. When I learned that the author's inspiration for the series was based on Rebecca, I was thrilled as this novel is an all-time favorite of mine.

Plenty of gothic elements abound in Murder on the Cliffs, from an icy, haughty widowed matron of the manor, a handsome and troubled young lord, an austere housekeeper who harbors secrets, a beautiful estate and a nearby ancient abbey, and a dead body near the stormy sea...just my kind of story. Such potential.......

As the story begins, we learn that the dead woman was the fiancee' of the young lord, and the million dollar question is, "Was her death an accident, murder, or suicide?" When the plot begins to unfold, Daphne, who is staying in the village as a guest, becomes involved with a cast of characters who all begin to shed light on the victim and her past; it appears that more than one person has a reason for wanting her dead. Honestly, the mystery was interesting but not page-turning thrilling. I found myself bored halfway through and forced myself to finish when it became a typical who-dunnit.

One of the book's strengths was the accuracy in depicting du Maurier as privileged but no-nonsense. I was impressed that Challis kept true to what is known about du Maurier's personality and background, and her portrayal of Daphne as independent, intelligent, and modern-thinking in a post Great War age rang true.

I give the book high marks for the creativity of using du Maurier as slueth and staying true to her spirit, but low marks for the execution of the story. It had a fantastic premise, but just didn't quite pack a punch. Darn it!

3/5 stars

Title: Murder on the Cliffs
Author: Joanna Challis
St. Martin's Press
292 pages
genre: mystery

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