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.

01-img_2540

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…