Written by WC Ryan — Blackwater Island lies of the Devon Coast. The year is 1917 and the Great War, still raging, has made the already rich arms manufacturer Lord Highmount even richer. However, the same conflict has also made him indescribably poorer. His two sons have died in battle.
Lady Highmount is distraught, and the Lord wants to ease her mind. A spiritualist meeting is to take place, and two spiritual mediums – Madame Feda and Count Orlov – have been engaged by the Highmounts to contact the dead sons. Other guests have been invited along. Mr and Mrs Cartwright, old family friends, will be there as will their daughter Kate. Kate was engaged to Reginald Highmount, but the couple broke it off before Reginald went off to war. She will be accompanied by her fiancé Rolleston Miller-White, a staff officer in procurements in the War Office.
Kate wanted to decline the invitation but circumstances have made that impossible. While it would be awkward for Kate to introduce the Miller-White to the Highmounts under such circumstances, the fact is the pair have recently split up thus making the social occasion doubly embarrassing. Then there is Kate’s gift to consider. Apparently she too is sensitive to spirits from the other side and an encounter with Reginald’s would be more than she could bear.
So why is she going? Because national security is at risk, and Kate works for the government. A British spy has discovered plans for the Highmount aerial torpedo in the German War Office, and the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, Captain Sir Mansfield Smith-Cunning, wants the traitor rooted out. Kate is being pressed in to service as a spy with another agent, Donovan, masquerading as her servant. To her Donovan seems a dangerous and unpleasant gentleman.
And so the author sets the stage for a thoroughly enjoyable country house mystery – a haunted manor cut off from the mainland by an incoming storm, a selection of guests with secrets and personal vendettas and an investigator out of her depth. The stars of the book are Kate and Donovan. She is resourceful, independent and forward thinking and her sensitivity gives her a vulnerability which later becomes a strength in a clever way. It is hinted that Donovan is a killer, but his sympathies are unclear. To begin with, he is the most interesting character, but a burgeoning romance with Kate strips away his ambiguity, which is a bit of a mistake.
A shell-shocked soldier with a connection to Donovan, the murder of the doctor treating him and a trio of conscientious objectors all complicate the duo’s investigation, and keep the plot moving along. The author makes the most of his setting, with hidden corridors and malicious spirits all adding to the atmosphere. The question of the identity of the traitor is wrapped up in a satisfying ending, which isn’t at all obvious. This is a pleasant opening to what I hope will be a new series, and I look forward to reading what comes next.
WC Ryan is a pen name for the author William Ryan. Why not take a look at our review of his novel The Twelth Department.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars