The Sulphur Springs Cure by Jeffrey Round

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The Sulphur Springs Cure by Jeffrey Round front cover

Past and present collide in Jeffrey Round’s engaging The Sulphur Springs Cure, which jumps back and forth between 2009 and 1939 as our central character, Violet McAdams recalls what happened in Sulphur Springs in the Dundas Valley in Ontario, Canada, in the last summer before World War II broke out.

Violet was just 13 then, her surname was McPherson and she was at the Sulphur Springs Hotel with her parents. Her mother, Maggie, a talented professional tennis player was there to take “the cure” after suffering an ankle injury – the pungent waters of the spring which gave the hotel its name being renowned for working miracles on people who braved the noxious fumes and took the plunge, literally.

Violet, at a loose end, makes friends with Julia, the daughter of the hotel’s owner, and together the teenagers explore the grounds. The daughter of a promiment botanist, Violet delights in being able to show off by naming all of the plants they find. She’s a naive young girl who is still quite happy to play with her dolls – until she decides to cast her childish playthings aside to follow in Julia’s wake.

Julia may not be that much older, but she has a worldly air that Violet envies. Then, one night, Violet witnesses something that changes her forever and draws her pretty abruptly into the grown up world. A chain of events means that someone is floating dead in the spa pool, and Violet feels like she could have been responsible. But at her age, are her memories playing tricks?

Now Violet is 84 and about to move into an assisted living development, but what happened 70 years ago still preys on her mind and after she receives news of Julia’s recent death, Violet decides it is time to face her demons and return to Sulphur Springs, her niece Claire in tow.

It appears that Violet’s obsession with death is about to give her a new lease of life. In the early pages of this book she is obviously feeling her age, but as The Sulphur Springs Cure progresses she is inspired to take risks and live a little, much to the bemusement and amusement of her niece. Perhaps there is still a little of the teenage Violet in there, after all?

The joys and pitfalls of both age and youth are cleverly unpicked here, with Violet the catalyst to everything that ensues as the pages turn and then turn again. This is an immersive read with a leading lady who stays wholly realistic, whatever her age. The descriptions of an almost carefree life that is about to change dramatically with the advent of World War are poignant and well drawn, and that’s also true as we step into more recent times, with Violet the thread that weaves it all together. My one quibble is that the cryptically titled chapter headings don’t offer much of a clue as to which part of the story is about to unfold, meaning the timeline goes back and forth without any warning,

There’s a touch of the historical crime about The Sulphur Springs Cure — even 2009 seems a long way back, given what’s happened in recent years — but Violet holds her cards close to her chest, which adds the thrill of the whodunnit into the mix too. Jeffrey Round is skilled at pacing, keeping the reader on tenterhooks as the pieces of this complicated jigsaw gradually fall into place and reveal a surprising final picture. Another author to add to the “to be looked out for” list, methinks!

There’s another body found floating in the pool – and some elderly sleuths determined to find out why – in Steph Broadribb’s Death in the Sunshine.

Cormorant Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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