I’ve never read anything by Santa Montefiore before, but I know she has fifteen novels to her name, and I have picked up The Mermaid Garden several times in the book store and debated buying it. Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster, I just had the chance to read her upcoming release, Secrets of the Lighthouse.
The story is divided between to narrators. The first is Caitlin Macausland, who died mysteriously at a lighthouse off the coast of Connemara, Ireland. Her husband, Conor, is the only witness of her death. The locals whisper that Conor may have murdered her, and there is a rumor that a third person was seen rowing away from the lighthouse that night. Caitlin chose to stay near her husband and their two children rather than “moving on,” but she can’t communicate with them and resents any indication she sees that they may be prepared to move on with their own lives.
Ellen Trawton is five months away from her wedding when she decides she has had enough – enough of her overbearing mother, her tepid fiancé, and her life in London that is her mother’s ideal rather than hers. Desperate for space, Ellen heads for the one place that she knows her mother would never think to look for her. Her mother worked hard for 33 years to bury her past in Ireland, and so Ellen is surprised when she arrives to find not just her Aunt Peg, who she assumed was her only family, but a whole village full of aunts, uncles and cousins she has never known. To put off thinking about what to do with her own life, Ellen starts looking for answers to why her mother ran away from her family without ever looking back. Her quest brings her into the path of Conor Macausland, and the two of them are drawn powerfully together. They both have elements of their past to put behind them, but Caitlin’s spirit is not ready to watch Conor create a future that doesn’t include her.
Santa Montefiore’s style reminded me a bit of two of my favorite authors, Susanna Kearsley and Maeve Binchy. Susanna has a gift for writing about women who take their troubles off to remote locations to start over and wind up finding something extraordinary. Her books are gothic and suspenseful, usually romantic, and totally captivating. Maeve Binchy wrote about Irish women. Her stories weren’t plot driven, but character driven – beautiful, moving stories about the small moments in people’s lives. I felt like Montefiore was aiming for something that was a mix of both these styles. She came close, but the magic was missing. It was a good story, and I definitely enjoyed reading it, but it just didn’t have that special something that keeps you from being able to put the book down. Also, there were a few places where a line or two of dialogue seemed to jar with the rest of what was happening in the scene.
The only other thing that kept this book from being a five-star read for me was the speed at which Montefiore threw Ellen and Conor together. In a 300 page book, it takes a hundred pages for Ellen and Conor to even meet for the first time, but the minute they do, they are a couple. It was just too fast to be really believable.
Montefiore does a great job with her setting. Connemara jumps off the page at you, and all the important locations of the book (Conor’s castle, the lighthouse, the local pub, Aunt Peg’s home, and the local chapel) felt realistic and familiar. I liked the character of Aunt Peg, with all her eccentricities and spunky personality, but I did have a bit of trouble keeping all her uncles and cousins straight.
The majority of the “secrets” in this book are pretty easily guessed early on, but I still enjoyed watching Montefiore weave everything together.