After a very promising, not to say chilling, opening, the narrative had stagnated, I was slightly confused about who the characters were and generally underwhelmed by the whole exercise. It was a disappointment, and all the more so because this was Kate Mosse, one of my favourite novelists of the last decade.
Ultimately I was rewarded for my persistence. As the story gathered pace and the characters emerged from the shadows they had previously been clouded by, so it began to make sense and the lethargy was replaced by a sense of drama and urgency that built towards the novel's tempestuous and satisfying climax.
The early issues I experienced were likely a function of the nature of a plot (or more likely my own dim-wittedness) in which it was necessary to reveal motivations, histories and relationshiops with caution so as not to reveal the whole. The plot is intricate and becomes a strength of the novel in the second half, as the unwinding of it reveals a tale of guilt, revenge and love.
The Taxidermist's Daughter is Connie Gifford, the daughter of Crowley Gifford, a once noted "stuffer of birds", as he describes himself, who has fallen on harder times and takes solace in the bottle while she lives a solitary existence in a house on the marshes near Fishbourne in Sussex. The story opens with a disturbance in the lives of Connie and her father following a strange local ritual in a churchyard at which a ghostly and unexpected presence spooks the assembled locals. This is rapidly followed by the discovery of a dead girl close to their cottage and just as rapidly Crowley's life and strength begins to unravel.
As Connie's anxiety for her father grows, she starts to piece together the events that have so disarmed him, and as she grows in strength, so does the story.
Many of the hallmarks of Mosse's previous work are to be found here. First there is a heroine of courage, sensitivity and toughness. Connie is a quiet presence as the book starts but when it matters she shows her steel. The narrative is also dominated by the ghostly presence of the past, even if it is not overt in the sense of a dual-timeline story as it is in the Languedoc trilogy, or the brilliant and much-overlooked The Winter Ghosts. Finally, what Mosse did for the Pyrenees in Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel here she does for the area she calls home, giving her novel a profound sense of place and building that with passion.
Despite my early misgivings this is a novel I'd recommend, but with it I'd also advise a degree if patience if they struggle early on. It's worth the investment.
Reviews of Previous Kate Mosse novels: