I’ve definitely fallen off my blogging schedule recently but, a while back, I had requested to participate in the blog tour for a historical mystery called Call Of The Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks. The blog tour was organized by Anne at Random Things Tours and the publisher was nice enough to send me a paperback ARC of the novel, which was just released at the end of June.
Iwas not familiar with the author but I was intrigued by the plot teaser and felt I would likely at least enjoy the novel. However, the book ended up far exceeding my expectations. Brook’s writing has strength and depth to it beyond what I would have thought to find in a run-of-the-mill historical mystery, and the atmosphere of the novel was suggestive enough to transport me to a cold dreary marsh even in these past sunny 90 degree heat days we’ve been having in LA. Find out more below!
Call Of The Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks
Publication Date: June 28th 2018
Length In Paperback: 320 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.39
Virginia Wrathmell has always known she will meet her death on the marsh in reparation for the mistakes of her childhood. On New Year’s Eve, at the age of eighty-six, Virginia feels the time has finally come.
In 1939, Virginia is ten, an orphan arriving to meet her new adoptive parents, Clem and Lorna Wrathmell, at their mysterious house, Salt Winds. The house sits right on the edge of a vast marsh, a beautiful but dangerous place. It’s the start of a new life for Virginia, but she quickly senses that all is not right between Clem and Lorna – in particular, the presence of their wealthy neighbour Max Deering, who takes an unhealthy interest in the family. When a German fighter plane crashes into the marsh, Clem ventures onto the deadly sands to rescue the airman. And that is when things really begin to go wrong…The atmospheric setting. As I mentioned in the intro, I read Call Of The Curlew during an LA heat wave, but thanks to Brooks’ writing, that didn’t stop me from becoming immersed in the mystical backdrop of Tollbury Marsh. The AC at full blast in my apartment probably helped a little, but the novel easily transported me to a foreboding and bleak sliver of English countryside, battered by the elements and and hostile to the uninitiated. The marsh feels like the perfect setting for a horror novel through protagonist Virginia’s eyes when she first arrives there as a child – a great place to bury, or in this case lose, the bodies. By the end of the book, however, it’s grown into an inescapable extension of her life – part of her past and fatefully part of her future as well.
The writing and dual plot line. The novel alternates between 1939-1941, starting when Virginia has just been adopted by Lorna and Clem and arrives at Tollbury Marsh to live with them, and then 2015, when she’s still living in their old house at 86. The chapters that make up the 2015 timeline are shorter than those set in the past, but they also have more action to them. Going back and forth between timelines really helped prop up the pacing of the novel, which otherwise is a little slow in my opinion (more on that below). I was also impressed by the complexity and depth of Brooks’ writing. There are plenty of historical novels out there that feel superficial in their execution, but the prose in Call Of The Curlew makes the novel feel like it’s an effective mid-point between classic English literature and a contemporary literary novel.
Virginia. One of my favorite things about the novel is that much of it is written from the point of view of a girl of about 11 or 12, and those chapters of the novel feel authentic to the protagonist’s age. Virginia’s reactions to the situations she encounters in her first few years at Tollbury Marsh, her thoughts and words, are believable and realistic for a girl of her age at the time. There’s confusion in her mind when confronted with the machinations of the adult world, a fumbling lack of self-assurance when dealing with life’s greater mysteries, but also a sense of budding rebellion that foreshadows her transformation into a tenacious and self-sufficient woman. Of course, the reader is not privy to most of the vicissitudes of Virginia’s life that bridge her tween and elder years. Still, seeing where Virginia ended up in the flash forwards helps to further contextualize the story of how her childhood years at Tollbury Marsh influenced her.
The pace and unresolved elements. Halfway through the book I realized that I wasn’t sure if it was truly a mystery or literary fiction. To qualify as a mystery, I think it would need to have more plot twists and a faster paced plot than it actually does. It also falls just shy of true literary fiction, because though it definitely has some character development, it doesn’t feel like one of the primary focuses of then novel. I also felt that the ‘mystery’ of the marsh and of Virginia’s feeling that she was fated to perish there on New Year’s Eve was not resolved in a way that felt satisfying to me as a reader. There are near magical elements in the novel and threads woven to lead into the direction of an explanation for the pull the marsh has on Virginia, but the author doesn’t connect all of these threads together in a conclusive or compelling way for me at the end.
Evocative historical mystery for which a slight lack of plot and slower pace are more than made up for by the transporting setting, intriguing characters and beautiful writing.
Have you read Call Of The Curlew? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for true crime title A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, contemporary fiction novel The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang, historical fiction title The Immortalists By Chloe Benjamin, and historical nonfiction pick The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro.
Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository. Thank you Anne Cater at Random Things Tours and the publisher for providing a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.