Although this book is called “The First Diary of Lady Jane Tremayne”, it is really a story seen through the eyes of Lady Jane, and owes much of its impressive immediacy to the large amount of dialogue which conveys so much to the reader. Set in the period of British history following the execution of king Charles I, his successor Charles II is in exile following the battle of Worcester, and Oliver Cromwell’s star is in the ascendant. As the widow of a man who fought on the Royalist side, Jane is viewed with some suspicion by the men who are rising in the new Commonwealth, which makes her life very difficult when she abandons her anonymity in the cause of women who have been attacked. For as a landowner and person of influence in the countryside around her home, she is appealed to as a young woman is attacked and raped. Financially struggling and a woman in a male dominated society, she has difficulty in obtaining help from those meant to be investigating crime and disorder in the area.
This seventeenth century mystery which becomes more complex as time goes on shows the careful line that any one with Royalist sympathies had to tread, especially as a lone woman. The persecution of Charles’ sympathisers led to enormous risk, and that is made vivid in this well written book. With friends and family being on opposing sides, as well as an impressive amount of research into transport, clothes and the setting generally, this makes for an engrossing read which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this gripping book of historical fiction.
The book opens on “St George’s Day, the twenty-third of April, in the Year of Our Lord 1653”, and shows Jane at home at Altringham Manor, East Devon. Her husband having died as a result of battle, she is a widow left in possession of the manor and the surrounding estate, but with severe financial encumbrances as a result of post war fines for being on the losing side. She has a nearby friend, Lady Olivia Courtney, who lives with her mother Constance and brother James. James has fallen in love with a young woman, Rebecca or Becky, and the entire family has Royalist sympathies. When Jane’s gardener’s daughter, Melanie, is attacked, Jane is horrified, and gently questions the distressed girl to discover some hints of the identity of the attacker. She begins enquiries, visiting another local landowner and others who may be able to help. When a second woman is attacked, Jane’s attention is distracted by another threat to her peaceful if lonely life, yet she feels unable to cease investigating, and real danger builds.
This book, told in Jane’s voice, reveals the nuances of behaviour, setting and clothing to make it a three dimensional account with many details of life in the seventeenth century. It revels in the dialogue which reveals the topics of conversation, the gossip and the political understanding which was so central to the time following the Civil War as the various factions struggled to live following such a time of dangerous divisions.I found it a fascinating and enjoyable book, set in a difficult time for women, even those with some position locally, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the historical period, as well as those who appreciate a novel of mystery which threatens women in the community. Jane Tremayne is a wonderful character and I would be very interested in any further stories of her bravery and resourcefulness.