The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a very different novel from Kate Mosse’s Carcassonne trilogy. This time she explores the village of Fishbourne in West Sussex just before the outbreak of World War I.
It is 1912 and young Connie Gifford struggles with fleeting images of the first 12 years of her life, which she has no memory of, after she suffered a trauma falling down the stairs. The memories are starting to return, however, but Connie can make no sense of them. She lives a lonely life with her widowed father at Blackthorn House on the edge of the village, with only a housemaid, Mary, for female company. Gifford, Connie’s father, has become a depressed alcoholic who mutters incoherently, and his daughter has been forced to take over his struggling taxidermy business.
A sequence of events takes place over a few days, which at first seem to bear no relation to one another: a dead woman is found floating in the stream by Connie’s house; a local man is being paid to watch the Gifford house, but we don’t know why; and then Connie’s father and the local doctor go missing. As the stormy weather moves in, Connie realises that she is embroiled in something dark and foreboding and, along with the doctor’s son, Harry, she seeks to find out the truth.
This is a fast-paced thriller with gothic undertones. The imagery of death is everywhere: even the weather threatens to destroy the village, with wind, rain and waves pounding away at the sea wall.
Once again, Kate Mosse has succeeded in writing a very good novel. She keeps her chapters short and fast moving. Her knowledge and love of the local area is apparent in her attention to detail, and her prose is both thoughtful and beautifully crafted.
I did get a little tired of the passages about taxidermy, which are supposedly from a book written on the subject by a Mrs R Lee. Mosse also includes excerpts from an anonymous person’s journal, which serve to explain to the reader why the disappearances and murders are happening. I did wonder if there was a better technique for doing this, however I can understand that Mosse used it to prolong the ‘whodunnit’ mystery for as long as she could.
There are a lot of different predominantly male characters who can cause confusion at times as they aren’t particularly well developed. This could be a deliberate decision made by the author in order to ‘protect’ the murderer, however there were a couple of instances when I couldn’t remember which ‘Mr’ character was which and had to flick back to refresh my memory.
I was reminded of The Woman in Black on a number of occasions: the isolated setting, the threat of the weather and the locals acting mysteriously whenever they were approached. However, I enjoyed this novel immensely even if there were no real surprises at the end.
A dark, gothic thriller to read on a cold, rainy night in front of the fire.