Book Review: The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

The enthralling new novel from the bestselling author of THE WINTER GHOSTS, CITADEL and LABYRINTH.

Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Told over one summer, THE TAXIDERMIST’S DAUGHTER is the haunting new novel from the bestselling author of LABYRINTH, SEPULCHRE, CITADEL and THE WINTER GHOSTS.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:  ★★★★

My Thoughts:  

I’ve always enjoyed Kate Mosse’s books, so was looking forward to starting her latest offering, and it didn’t disappoint…

From the very first scene this is a well-crafted, atmospheric tale.
The atmosphere Mosse creates is suitably gothic and eerie at times, and recalled to my mind for a moment the setting created in The Woman in Black, with the house located near the marshland, which is in turn both beautiful or potentially dangerous when the weather changes and a storm sets in. Whereas that book featured a supernatural theme, in this tale it is the actions of certain people with all too real evil intentions, rather than supernatural influences, which inspire such drastic consequences.

The tension starts early on, with the churchyard murder, and steadily increases, aided by much of the past being concealed, although there is obviously something lurking which must be discovered.
A mysterious ‘watcher’, an asylum from which someone may have escaped, fragments of burned letters, people disappearing without trace – all these are wonderful touches which add to the story.
The presence of birds, ever-constant, either stuffed or real is interesting. It starts out very benign as Connie witnesses swans in flight, and becomes gradually more threatening, as rooks and crows gather in large numbers around the house, as if waiting for something.

Immersed within the story are sections from a taxidermy handbook, detailing the methods used in the preservation of specimens. These are followed by scenes from an unknown character’s point of view, starting with the unsettling observation that they are watching, and becoming increasingly more macabre as a long-planned revenge is exacted on those who never thought their actions may eventually catch up with them in a grisly and deliberate fashion. The mystery regarding this character’s identity kept me turning the pages.

Connie is a wonderful central character . Robbed of a chunk of her memories by a childhood accident, that missing knowledge of her past must bother her, yet she is very brave. Her inner strength and determination lead her to search for the truth even as it becomes apparent something pretty evil may have occurred in the past.
Connie is also a heroine with a strong stomach; she learns her father’s taxidermy skills, and doesn’t shy away when a drowned woman must be pulled from the water. Even with the revelation following this Connie does what is needed because she cannot be absolutely certain that someone she loves is not involved in the woman’s death.
I had much admiration for the strong-willed Connie, left in a lonely house when her father, who has already retreated into his memories of a dark past, literally disappears.

Also pulled into the mystery is Harry, the son of Dr. Woolston, a man who also disappears under unexplained circumstances. Initially coincidence throws Harry and Connie together, but the tangled web threatens to engulf the pair of them as it seems a number of people were involved in events of long ago, for which someone is now seeking vengeance.
The moments of growing friendship, when Connie and Harry confide in each other and start to trust and admire each other are scenes of welcome lightness in the dark business occurring in the story, and I really liked their growing friendship.

The secondary characters serve to lighten a bleak landscape, and I liked young Davey Reedman, who becomes a good friend and help to Connie.

As a terrible storm threatens the land, Connie’s missing memories begin to return, and in a race against time to find her father, this fast-paced thriller races to its conclusion. I couldn’t tear myself away from the story at this point, I HAD to keep reading and find out how everything was resolved.
It was a very exciting read and is perfect for a dark night as the seasons change from Autumn to Winter.

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