Irish Ghosts, a Murder Mystery, & Handsome Lords
Late winter seems to be the time for gothic tales of madness, ghosts, unsettling houses, and with any luck a handsome lord. Among several other books fitting into this niche Laura Andersen's The Darkling Bride appears.
This novel starts in the present with our protagonist Carragh Ryan as she is hired to inventory an old Irish family, the Gallagher's, estate library. Though taking the job partly out of necessity, Carragh is hoping to solve a literary mystery surrounding a Victorian writer. This writer, Evan Chase, went to said estate to research a book about he Darkling Bride folklore but never published the manuscript due to his wife's untimely death, hearsay suggests his wife was mad and committed suicide. Fast forward to the 1970s the current Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher are found dead. Either they were murdered in a home invasion robbery or the lovely Lily Gallagher murdered her husband before taking her own life. Thus, besides the literary mystery of the lost manuscript, Carragh stumbles into the hornets' nest of the dysfunctional Gallagher family that combines elitist bickering and propriety with the trauma of family member murders.
Okay, did you stick with me through that? The basic premise of this book becomes convoluted with so many time periods and story lines within story lines.
I liked this book a lot but at times I felt like there was too much going on. With multiple mysteries, time periods, and characters it took a little time to sink my teeth into the story because as a reader I had to become invested in all of the story lines and all of the characters. Additionally, at times I felt like I was getting smacked over the head with "Look how Irish this is!" Every sweatshirt worn was a Boston College jacket, the Ryan family wasn't just Irish they were a law enforcement police family, etc. at times it was too much and I felt myself eye rolling.
Moreover, there were several tropes in the book and strong allusions to Jane Eyre among other classic works of fiction. Most noticeably was the dashing young Aiden Gallagher, the viscount who inherited the house: he's wealthy, smart, mischievous and of course knows just how handsome he is. However, I did appreciate that Andersen seemed well aware that she was using the trope and even made some jokes about it via the character Carragh.
One point that I particularly applaud the author for is making Carragh half Caucasian and half Chinese. Her mixed race ancestry plays into the character dynamics and I appreciated that it was included. Many times historical fiction does not include a lot of diversity, especially in the protagonists of the book. I won't say more about it because I think it is developed nicely in the book so you can read her story for yourself!
Of course, the Gothic touches throughout the book were my favorite! I honestly would have liked more of the story and characters from the 1880s as well as more of the actual Darkling Bride story and folklore.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, especially if you're in the mood for a cozy mystery!