The Widow’s Confession – Sophia Tobin

The Widow's ConfessionCrime Thriller Fella was very happy to take part in The Widow’s Confession blog tour — that’s still perambulating around the countryside, I believe, if you want to catch up with it; you can find dates and places here — and took the opportunity to read the book in question.

And a very fine change of pace it was too. As you know, here at CTF we’re very contemporary fellows who enjoy the kiss kiss bang bang school of fiction, so this Victorian drama, with its tight corsets and stiff collars, was just the ticket to ease ourselves into the new year.

The blurb loves the view from the cliffs:

Broadstairs, Kent, 1851. Once a sleepy fishing village, now a select sea-bathing resort, this is a place where people come to take the air, and where they come to hide…

Delphine and her cousin Julia have come to the seaside with a secret, one they have been running from for years. The clean air and quiet outlook of Broadstairs appeal to them and they think this is a place they can hide from the darkness for just a little longer. Even so, they find themselves increasingly involved in the intrigues and relationships of other visitors to the town.

But this is a place with its own secrets, and a dark past. And when the body of a young girl is found washed up on the beach, a mysterious message scrawled on the sand beside her, the past returns to haunt Broadstairs and its inhabitants. As the incomers are drawn into the mystery and each others’ lives, they realise they cannot escape what happened here years before…

A compelling story of secrets, lies and lost innocence…

The Widow’s Confession is a love story — and a crime novel, of sorts, set in Charles Dickens’s resort of choice. The Goodwin Sands off the coast, where many a sea-faring soul has come to ruin, is a great metaphor for the treacherous psychological shifting sands that consume the characters.

The Widow’s Confession recounts the story of Delphine Beck, a disgraced American woman who is keeping her head down in the UK, accompanied by her cousin Julia. Delphine and Julia arrive for the summer in Broadstairs, where they reluctantly become part of a party of day-trippers, which includes the troubled priest Theo Hallam, a senior gentleman called Edmund Steele, and Miss Waring and her beautiful niece Alba. There’s also a gifted young painter called Ralph Benedict, with a touch of the rascal about him.

Many members of the party are haunted by tragic secrets and unresolved tensions, particularly Mr. Hallam, who’s got kind of a thing for Delphine, but who also has plenty of issues, and therefore is very unpleasant to her indeed. As if there isn’t enough strain between the incomers, every time someone suggests a nice day out they discover another young girl washed-up on the beach – deaded! There’s a killer roaming Broadstairs, who is leaving odd messages in the sand beside the unfortunate victims.

It’s all exceedingly genteel on the surface, but underneath… not so much. This is one of those novels that positively heaves with violent emotion, but it’s all packed down tightly , tamped beneath a heavy assortment of veils, corsets and widow’s weeds. The heavy baggage of these characters could slow a steam train.

Delphine is a very modern heroine, but she’s doomed by the conventions of the time to live in exile. Poor Mr. Hallam is positively crosseyed with guilt and lust – never an ideal combination – and Mr. Benedict’s embarrassing outbursts of temper invite as much opprobrium among the party as his eye for the ladies. So when the emotional moments do come — Delphine and Theo’s harsh words for each other are loaded with subtext — they hit you with the force of a sledgehammer.

The murder aspect of the narrative sometimes seems like a means to an end but the resolution is very satisfying and it dovetails nicely with the themes of the book. Sophia Tobin’s writing is both hugely atmospheric of the time and place, and archly knowing. The Widow’s Confession proved an enjoyable excursion into a totally alien world –- long lost now — which, behind the walks on the beach and afternoon tea and Sunday services, is molten to the touch.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for the review copy of The Widow’s Confession. Remember to scroll down a bit, a bit more, to see Sophia’s Guest Post about the inspiration for her Mr. Benedict.


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