THE MAUSOLEUM by David Mark (Severn House, Kindle $28.13)
The Mausoleum is a slightly unusual crime novel and quite a change for David Mark, who is best known for his DS McAvoy series of police procedurals.
The book opens in 2010 with two old ladies watching an even older man nearing death in a hospital bed. They harshly wake him so that he can answer their questions. The book then moves back to 1967 when the two ladies first meet over a grave in a small village near the Scottish border. Cordelia Hemlock is trying to pull her life back together after a failed academic career, a marriage of convenience and the death of her young son. She is an outsider in the ‘lost in time’ village of Upper Denton and is initially dismissive of the quiet, submissive, uneducated Felicity Goose. Their first meeting is interrupted by a sudden violent storm and a lightning strike which reveals a recently deceased body in a mausoleum hundreds of years old. When the storm passes, they find that the body has disappeared and that the one person they told about the body has died in a suspicious car accident. Together they decide to investigate and find a web of secrets stretching back to the Second world War.
The story alternates between Cordelia’s experiences at the time and transcripts of Felicity’s recollections of what happened in 1967, along with the occasional account of events back in World War II. The telling takes a little while to get used to and the opening sections of the book move at a leisurely pace. Once underway, however, the pace picks up and the final sections grip your attention as the book moves to its unexpected conclusion.
Mark skilfully gives each of the women their own distinctive voice, and uses the different perspectives of the same events to deepen the mystery and the suspense. The depiction of small village life in the 1960s is convincing and Mark fleshes out the local villagers so that they are more than familiar caricatures. There is also considerable poignancy and subtlety in his descriptions of the personal lives of Felicity and Cordelia and the gradual blossoming of their friendship. The plot is well structured, and the book moves in some very unexpected directions before reaching its conclusion.
It is a very well written and engaging crime novel and I thought that Mark cleverly handled the World War II aspects of the story with a good gritty sense of realism. In all, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was glad that I persevered through the slow opening section. It is a quiet, unassuming crime novel, but is one of my favourites so far this year.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Note: Severn House books are difficult to obtain in Australia, although they frequently turn up at local libraries, and it is probably best getting it on the Kindle. A hardback copy can be ordered through Amazon Australia for $38.65
Thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for a copy of the book to review.