Happy Friday! Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and dry. We have had the world’s most bizarre weather lately. Last week, there was the freakish snowstorm. Today’s treat: tornadoes. The result is that everyone is walking around sounding like a character from a Jane Austen novel who socializes by discussing the weather or the state of the roads. So rather than speculating on whether or not our freakish meteorological trends will continue, I will tell you about Pride of the Peacock. This was a NetGalley download, written by Victoria Holt. It was originally published in 1976, but Sourcebooks is re-releasing this and several of Holt’s other books as “Casablanca Classics.”
Jessica Clavering has always felt like an outsider in her unhappy family. With two distant older siblings, a passive father, and a mother who constantly bemoans the family’s fall from grace and the loss of Better Days, Jessica grew up accustomed to entertaining and educating herself. When Jessica turns 16, an old miner named Ben Herrick moves into the house that her family once owned. Despite mother’s objections to socializing with the man who “stole” their house, Jessica befriends him. Through Ben, Jessica learns the true story of her family’s past and how intricately it’s connected to Ben and his opal mines in Australia. Through an unexpected turn of events, Jessica finds herself an heiress on her way to Australia with a husband she doesn’t know if she can trust and she is certain she doesn’t like. In Australia, Jessica sets out to find a precious opal called “The Green Flash” whose existence has dogged her family for two generations. But the closer Jessica gets to uncovering the Flash, the more dangerous she becomes to someone who has fallen entirely under the peerless opal’s spell.
This is the second novel I’ve read by Victoria Holt, and she does tell a good story. I loved her descriptions of the mining town in Australia and the opal lore she includes. The mystery had some excellent qualities – plenty of likely suspects, murders, affairs, ghosts, and rumors of a curse that touches all owners of the Green Flash. There is one scene I particularly enjoyed where everyone in the mining town gets together for a treasure hunt at Jessica’s manor. It seemed like something all the characters in Downton Abbey would do for entertainment on a “Saturday-to-Monday.”
Here were the things that prevented this from being a 5-star read for me. The action doesn’t really get going until Jessica heads to Australia, and that doesn’t happen until almost a third of the way through the book. The first 100 pages are almost entirely exposition, and it feels a bit drawn out. Also, the plot device where a marriage-of-convenience couple winds up falling for each other is fine with me, but I never really believed that Jessica and her husband had deep feelings for each other. Sure, the fireworks are there with their snappy (and frequent) verbal altercations, so I believed that they had chemistry. But the story winds to its conclusion so quickly that I felt like I had whiplash from the big “I hate you – I love you!” turnaround. Not a bad book, but I preferred The India Fan.