This British novel is a combination of mystery and romance. It is not the writer´s first work, but the story that made her rich and famous. According to Wikipedia, her own life was quite adventurous (warning: the article sums up the full plot).
“The house faced the arch, and occupied three sides of a quadrangle. It was very old, and very irregular and rambling. The windows were uneven; some small, some large, some with heavy stone mullions and rich stained glass; others with frail lattices that rattled in every breeze; others so modern that they might have been added only yesterday.”
Not uncommon for the Victorian novel, there are several pages of description – the setting, the house, the characters – before we get to the actual story. Sir Michael Audley, the owner of Audley Court, has remarried recently. Pretty, blonde and blue-eyed Lucy Graham is much younger than her wealthy spouse. Despite her youth and beauty, she has a few skeletons in the cupboard.
Sir Michael is in the seventh heaven but his somewhat spoilt daughter Alicia dislikes her merry, childlike stepmother from the beginning. His nephew, the barrister Robert Audley, is taken by her beauty at first, but when his close friend Robert Talboys disappears, he begins to suspect that Lady Audley may be involved.
The plot involves bigamy, deceit, conspiracy, a court case and a discerning dog, to mention just a few pieces of the intricate puzzle. Modern readers may not be impressed by Robert Audley´s somewhat slow detective work (or the slow pace of the book); yet you will probably appreciate these words of his:
“Circumstantial evidence… that wonderful fabric which is built out of straws collected at every point of the compass, and which is yet strong enough to hang a man.”
The sensational story was inspired by the true Constance Kent case in 1860. There is plenty of drama and atmosphere, but perhaps not much realism.
My review of “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, a non-fictional account of the Constance Kent case.