Book review: Her Frozen Heart by Lulu Taylor
Two women, two parallel lives, 70 years apart'¦ both hit by a terrible tragedy and both beset by secrets and lies.
The invisible threads of fate are drawing together their dramatic stories at a beautiful Jacobean mansion deep in the Oxfordshire countryside, a place where hidden truths will finally be revealed.
Lulu Taylor, queen of a string of classic winter-warming novels like The Snow Rose and The Winter Children, casts a snow-spangled spell in a gripping, dark-edged and atmospheric mystery which comes ice-packed with intrigue, menace and romance, and stars two young widows facing up to deceit and betrayal.
In 1947, the worst winter in decades hits England, cutting off the inhabitants of Kings Harcourt Manor, a house dating back to the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. For Thomasina (Tommy) Elliot, widowed at the start of war, it is particularly hard because the burden of taking care of the family falls on her.
She has the solace of her two children, Antonia and Harry, and the interesting presence of her brother’s friend, Fred Burton Brown, who was badly burned in an accident during the war years in North Africa.
But there is also Tommy’s difficult and constantly sniping mother, and Barbara Hastings, a manipulative, mysterious figure from her past who has turned up unexpectedly needing a temporary home and who appears to want a piece of Tommy’s future as well.
In the present day, we meet Caitlyn Balfour who thinks her marriage to good-looking businessman Patrick is a success. He might be a ‘controlling perfectionist’ who has talked Caitlyn into sending their only child Max to a boarding prep school… but Patrick is one of the few people not to fall head over heels for her friend Sara, a pre-Raphaelite style beauty who seems to catch the eye of every man.
She thought they were happy until Patrick is killed in a road accident after phoning her only minutes before with a strange, garbled message saying he had something to tell her about Sara.
With her existence turned upside down, Caitlyn is forced to reassess everything she thought about her marriage, what she truly knows about Patrick, and his real feelings for her best friend. In the refuge of an old manor house in Oxfordshire, she begins to discover the truth…
Taylor has evolved into an exciting and talented novelist, immersing her readers in compelling, beautifully written stories which deliver emotion, rich psychological insight, intrigue and suspense as well as plenty of stunning twists and turns.
In Her Frozen Heart, she cleverly weaves between the fortunes of Caitlyn and Tommy, exploring fascinating similarities in their fraught situations but also exposing the vast differences between the privations, rationing and social restrictions of women in the tough post-war period and the experiences and pressures of women in the 21st century.
Thrilling, escapist and provocative, this is the perfect fireside read for winter nights!
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)