Splendour Falls - Susanna Kearsley
A mystery with elements of romance, this is about Emily Braden, a young Englishwoman who goes to Chinon in France to meet up with her notoriously unreliable historian cousin Harry, an expert in the history of the Plantagenets. Harry is not in Chinon when Emily arrives and although initially unfazed, Emily eventually becomes concerned about his absence and starts to investigate. The plot touches on the story of Isabelle, the wife of the Plantagenet King John, who allegedly hid a treasure in or near Chinon Castle in the 13th century and also on the story of another (fictional) Isabelle, a chambermaid who is thought to have hidden a treasure in Chinon during World War II.

The best aspect of the work is the service Kearsley does for the French tourist industry. Her description of the town of Chinon and Chinon Castle is enticing. I’m planning to visit the Loire Valley early next year and I’ve wanted to see Chinon Castle for a long time because it’s the setting of [b:The Lion in Winter|279660|The Lion in Winter|James Goldman|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320518029s/279660.jpg|271260]. Now I want to see it more than ever. In addition, Kearsley writes well, using clear and elegant prose.

However, the novel is not without its weaknesses. I did not find Emily particularly believable, not a lot happens for the best part of 300 pages and some aspects of the plot remain unexplained. Moreover, the villain is fairly obviously one of the men who show a possible romantic interest in Emily, Kearsley kills off possibly the most attractive male character and coincidence is layered upon implausibility to get to the resolution of the mystery. The narrative also includes stereotyped “gypsies” with an apparently uncritical acceptance of the myth that they are all thieves - even the friendly, otherwise reliable ones. In addition, I wasn’t particularly moved by the romance angle, but that may be because the description of one of the candidates reminded me a bit of this man …..


…… Julian Assange, whose looks I find rather creepy. And after having some difficulty with Kearsley’s use of dual time lines in other novels, I rather missed that factor here and would have liked to see a bit more of the historical Isabelles.

Overall, this was a pleasant, undemanding read and a good choice for the Christmas break. It didn’t knock me out, but then I’ve stopped expecting that from a Susanna Kearsley novel. An enjoyable - if fluffy - buddy read with my lovely friend Jemidar.