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Review: The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House

I was very excited when I won a copy of Stephanie Lam’s debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House – the cover looked gorgeous and the blurb was intriguing.

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House is a time-slip novel set in the 1920s and the 1960s.  The 1920s strand follows the visit of Robert Carver to his wealthier cousin Alec Bray, who lives in the titular house.  A poor relation, Robert has always admired Alec, but he discovers that the Brays are damaged and gets dragged into their web.  Forty years later, the second strand follows Rosie Churchill, an 18-year-old girl who has run away from home and is living in Castaway House, now subdivided into flats as she finds out about what happened to Robert, their stories intertwine…  I’m hoping that doesn’t give too much away, because I think this is a book that is best to go into unspoiled – for maximum impact.

The very pretty and retro cover of The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House
The very pretty and retro cover of The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House

The book evokes two very different periods in exactly the same setting – and does so very successfully.  You can feel the difference in the world of the Twenties where Alec is trying to project an image of glamour and privilege and that of the sixties where everything is rougher, darker and poorer.

There is plenty of mystery and suspense – expect sharp intakes of breath as the secrets are gradually revealed.  Stephanie Lam has done a really good job of setting this up so that you can’t see the twists coming – or at least I couldn’t.  I thought I knew what was going to happen (jaded time-slip reader that I am) but I was surprised by the ingenuity of what the actual plot was.  She also credits the reader with the intelligence not to need everything spelling out – particularly when it comes to the resolution.

I really enjoyed The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House – and I will be looking forward to more from Stephanie Lam.  I’ve already recommended it to several friends.  Published today by Penguin, I’m hoping it’ll be nice and prominent in the bookshops – here it is on Foyles website and here for Kindle.

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