Monday 8 September 2014

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House by Stephanie Lam

It's 1965 and eighteen year-old Rosie Churchill has run away to the beautiful but run-down Castaway House in the seaside town of Helmstone. But when she uncovers a scandal locked away in the walls of the old house, she soon comes to realise that neither her own troubled past nor that of the house will stay buried for long. . .
In 1924 fresh-faced Robert Carver comes to Castaway House to spend a languid summer in the company of his much wealthier cousin, Alec Bray. But the Brays are a damaged family, with damaging secrets. And little does Robert know that his world is about to change for ever.
As Rosie begins to learn more about Robert, the further she is drawn into the mysterious history of the house, and their stories, old and new, entwine.

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House was published by Penguin on 28 August 2014, and is Stephanie Lam's debut novel.

The star of this story is the house. Castaway House sits high above the seaside town of Helmstone, once a place of grandeur and beauty, the setting for wonderful parties, it is now, in 1965, quite run-down. It's shabby exterior hiding the fact that this old family home is now a warren of seedy little flats, inhabited by drifters and loners.

The dual-time narrative of this story works so very well. It is becoming more and more popular to write a novel in this way, and I do particularly enjoy the compare and contrast of different eras. I especially enjoyed it in Castaway House as two of my favourite periods are depicted; the 1920s and the 1960s.

Rosie Churchill comes to live at Castaway House as an escape. She's just eighteen and has fled home and her studies. Sharing a room with two girls and working as a waitress was not in her plans, but things happen, and things change and this is where she's ended up. Rosie is intrigued by a sketched portrait of a man who shares her initials; RC. The mystery deepens when she finds a message carved under the window ledge, also featuring RC. When an old, tramp-like man called Dockie arrives on the doorstep of Castaway House, Rosie feels compelled to help him out, and as Dockie spends more time at the house, his memory returns and the mystery of RC gradually emerges.

Alternate chapters transport the reader back to the early 1920s, when Castaway House was inhabited by wealthy Alec Bray and his beautiful, if very aloof wife Clara. Robert Carver arrives to spend the summer with his rich relations, and finds himself smack bang in the middle of a warring couple on the brink of financial ruin. As Robert's summer progresses, so too does his story, the story that is linked back to that sketch and carving found by 1960s Rosie.

Stephanie Lam has created a house with its own huge character, the plot evolves around it, ably assisted by a cast of characters who are beautifully crafted and very realistic. Some of them are sad, some are damaged, but all of them are well rounded and vibrant. The story skips with ease from the dreary, down-at-heel house of the 60s back to the busy and elegant abode of the 20s, and the author drops hints and adds links subtly throughout the process.

Crimes of passion, hints of horror - there are a couple of quite spine-chilling scenes that had me holding my breath in anticipation.  The Mysterious Affair of Castaway House is a elegantly written debut by an author to watch out for.

My thanks to Katie from Penguin who sent my copy for review.

Stephanie Lam was born and raised in London. 

She now lives in Brighton, close to the sea.

Follow her on Twitter @StephanieLam1

1 comment:

  1. I thought this one was wonderful too. I loved all the characters and the house and the fictional town so realistic. I was sorry to turn the last page and say goodbye to this book.