Book Review – The Taxidermist’s Daughter Kate Mosse

taxidermists-daughter

It is wonderful to read a story set in your own small corner of the world, Kate Mosse is a local writer and this is the first book I’ve read that features many of the local landmarks. I loved hearing the names of places I know well, Chichester and Fishbourne which is where Kate grew up. You can read an article about the house that inspired this tale here.

What Kate does well, is to write evocatively about a place – I loved that about Winter Ghosts and I began this book almost straight after finishing Winter Ghosts, but this tale is darker and more macabre.

Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Told over one summer, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is the haunting new novel from the bestselling author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel and The Winter Ghosts.

I have to admit the detailed description of the process of taxidermy described early on in the book made me feel slightly squeamish. I can’t say that it endeared me to Connie, I found it took a while to really get into the book. It was like catching glimpses in the mist, the sense of place, the marshes and the ebbing water – play just as big a role in this tale along with the characters.

wash stand Petworth Cottage Museum

The tale unfolds gradually, the lives of Gifford and his daughter resonate strongly with the sense of decay. Their art is no longer sought after or appreciated, but, Kate makes it very clear, it may be macabre but it is an Art of its own. It made me look at taxidermy in a different light – the skill is in preserving life, forever -from the smallest bird to the well loved dog.

It is gruesome in parts, especially the murders – but then it is why this tale hangs together, so reminiscent of Victorian Gothic – you get a sense of chilling in your bones, as the tidal waters rise, the crows circling or roosting in packs, even though it is more Edwardian than Victorian, it is a delightfully suspenseful tale.

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Kate’s sense of  of place is masterly, cosy tap rooms of local Public houses, an austere asylum, chilly carriage rides and living beside the frosty ebbing and flowing estuary mirroring the Giffords’ place in the community. We also have gallantry and just the wisp of romance .. if only the two lovers had a chance.

It’s a good read, one definitely for cold winter nights with a crackling fire – to ward off the chill of the mist and fog, in good gothic style.

If you loved Susan Hill’s The woman in Black, then you’ll enjoy this. (When, dear Susan, will you write another Gothic novel?)

I can’t wait to see what Kate Writes next…

Ghostly tales -Book recommendations for Christmas Reading


December’s bleak weather – drab grey clouds creating a state of perpetual twilight in the short daylight hours contrasts sharply with the twinkling lights of Christmas Decorations. No wonder we all huddle in the warmth and light of our homes, gather together by a crackling fire and read dark brooding tales. Winter weather gives rise to the the gothic novel, Frankenstein was written after a lengthy storm, maybe the tapping of rain against the windows gives us a deep contrast to our cosy nest, that just beyond the walls, something lurks.

It was a Victorian tradition to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve – maybe created by Charles Dickens Christmas Carol although Shelly’s Modern Promethus better known as Frankinstein was written a good twenty years earlier after a particularly violent storm.    Whatever the tradition, there is nothing nicer than being curled up safe and warm reading brooding gothic tales – I thought I would offer some recommendations as alternatives to the flickering box on the wall.


The Winter Ghosts – by Kate Mosse

Kate is a local author to West Sussex, I was delighted to meet her a few years ago. She has written a number of books but this is an engaging a ghostly tale. Set in France between the wars our protagonist, Freddie is lost; not just on his way to Ax-les-Thermes to spend time with friends but suffering deep grief at his brother’s death.  He is caught up in a blizzard high on a mountain road – crashes his car and wanders towards the nearest village.  In the woods, he hears a woman’s voice calling.

This is a good read – the ghosts are not scary enough to give you sleepless nights. The tale is evocative – the atmosphere definitely one that makes this tale believable. Although you might need to wrap up warm – his wandering in the snow made me gather lots of blankets round me!


The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

This is my favourite gothic novel – one that set me on the road to reading more from this genre. The tale begins with the cosiness of a happy family gathered round the fire on Christmas Eve, where the protagonist, Arthur Kipps, is asked to tell a ghost story by his step children. This evokes terrifying memories for Arthur – of his time spent in the aptly named Eel Marsh House – the memories surface and disturb his peace.  Arthur is unable to rest until he has written his account down on paper.

Unlike the film, this story is darkly plausible – Arthur convinces us that until the visit to Eel Marsh House, he was a man of logic, one not easily given to melodrama and superstition. The Woman in Black is a tale of heartbreak and revenge – whenever she is seen death follows shortly behind, he fears catching sight of her and is always looking over his shoulder. The happiness of his family home, the joy of love and peace that surrounds the house is not able to drive out his fear, instead it casts a shadow on his life – will he escape her clutches or will she get her revenge?


Florence and Giles – John Harding

Set in New England – this tale of innocence, neglect and crumbling mansions has all the elements to create a gothic story. Florence and Giles roam free, while servants go about their business in the absence of the Master of the house and uncle to the children. Florence is forbidden to read, because her uncle was rejected by an educated woman. However Florence is not to be thwarted, she escapes to the library, hides herself away and teaches herself to read, devouring novel after novel in her Uncle’s vast library.

I have been a life long reader – my childhood was spent escaping into books, so I could relate to Florence and felt sympathy with her almost straight away. I loved the way Harding gave Florence a strange way of speaking – creating her own words and phases that were uniquely her own and quite endearing.

However, we are talking gothic novel – where suspense and horror lie. It gathers pace, in a similar way to the Turning of the Screw – layer upon layer  right up to the horrifying conclusion. It left me completely traumatised at the end – with a complete book hangover for several weeks. Read if you dare!