Mrs England by Stacey Halls
Each year my friends and I visit Wentworth Garden Centre in South Yorkshire for the Christmas displays. Our excitement usually starts in September when Wentworth announces 'Something is coming'. They offer the most amazing food, a more formal dining experience in the Bothy, ice-skating and a farm. But the best part is the display of the Christmas village. And I'm here to confess something to you dear reader, I love a Christmas village and have one set up each year which I add to from my visit to Wentworth.
This year was no exception, but sadly one of our party was poorly, so my sis stepped in and stopped off on her way back home. The displays were awesome and yes, I may have picked up a very Germanic crooked house for this year's display. One of my friends who came to Wentworth, Phoebe, bought me this novel last year as part of our Secret Santa tradition. Stacey Halls has become a staple of my Autumn as much as a PSL (Pumpkin Spiced Latte) and this one certainly delivers.
West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple, from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear that something is not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.
Ostracised by the other servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, soon a series of events will force Ruby to question everything she thought she knew.
I always seem to end up reading Stacey Halls excellent novels in Autumn. The atmosphere and slight other-worldliness lends itself beautifully to the darkening nights. And this does not disappoint.
The novel is excellently researched. I know the area where the novel is set quite well and Halls has captured the rain and mills beautifully. The bleakness of the moors reminding me of Wuthering Heights. Equally well-researched is around the training programmes of the 'Norland Nannies'. Childhood nurses and their day to day routine. Here there is a sense of comfort, as cosy as crrumpets and butter by a log fire.
But there is a mystery to be solved here, and Ruby May is our eyes and ears. She is a wonderful character - strong, forthright with a natural sense of doing right and protecting her charges. But do we trust our narrator? Especially when she appears to be keeping a secret from us - a secret that has already stopped her accepting a posting abroad. Just who is Ruby's family? Who is Mrs England and is Mr England everything he promises - an open smile and a kind heart?
This has been just the ticket for an Autumn evening. I'm already a fan of Stacey Halls' work and this is a brooding, atmospheric page-turner. Excellent!