The Will by Rebecca Reid – a clever, brilliantly written family thriller set in a huge family home
The Will by Rebecca Reid
This is an unusual and absolutely enthralling novel which I found difficult to put down. Set in a family stately home, Roxborough Hall, over several days one summer, this is a book that could so easily have diverted into a murder mystery as all the characters manifest some intense feelings during their stay. All the characters are related to each other, with one exception; Violet, the lifelong companion of Cecily, the most recent owner. The Mordaunt family have lived in this special, huge, beautiful house for generations, since Tudor times at least. It has descended to its successive owners, along with the bulk of a considerable sum of money for its upkeep, not by predictable but sometimes disastrous primogeniture, the eldest son inheriting however feckless or unsuitable he be, but by a quaint and symbolic process. It is that system which provides the narrative drive of this well written novel, with its surprises and twists, and its entirely relatable characters. Each family member has their own motives and backstory revealed, but not in a straightforward manner as significant events reveal their attitude to a house, a charge for life, an undertaking that will transform their lives whatever they choose to do. As each character is revealed, in the light of a system that almost forces honesty at whatever the cost, the mystery of who will inherit the house runs throughout, a mystery that I found tantalising. I found this such an enjoyable book, so well written and carefully plotted that I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The practice or entail which arranges who will receive the house is that the previous owner will write letters to each member of the family individually, either stating that they are the new owner, or explaining why they are not. The ceremony of the letters takes place after the funeral in the dining room of the house at a meal at which all the potential legatees must attend. Cecily had died with only Violet in attendance, so her children and grandchildren are summoned to the house for the funeral and the revelation of who was to inherit. David, the eldest son with his second wife Bryony and their son Lucca, Grant with his latest much younger girlfriend and his son Jonty who lives locally. David’s two adult daughters from his first marriage, the troubled Willa and free spirit Lizzie, are also summoned, while Cecily’s daughter Elspeth has been contacted but has not replied. Each of those arriving in the family home where they have each spent school holidays, Christmas and Easter for most of their lives, reacquaint themselves with the house and its glorious countryside setting, for most their only real home after tumultuous lives in other places. Each know that they stand to inherit at least on paper, and they each have various attitudes to that. For one or two it would represent a new start, for others a means to an end – a source of money, a venue for a project, a steadying influence in a difficult life. Each wonder about their chances, the chances that another member of this dysfunctional family will have been the preferred heir of the unpredictable, quixotic Cecily. Only Violet, who has been Cecily’s confidante for so long, has an idea, but is genuinely confused by the events that transpire in this enclosed community over a short space of time.
I really enjoyed the interaction between the characters that feature in this novel, and the tension that the author has managed to continue to virtually the final pages. While some characters are unlikable or elusive, their back stories go some way to explain their current actions and attitudes. This is a nonviolent thriller of the best kind, with superb dialogue, twists and surprises that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I recommend it as a really good, immersive read.