12/06/2005

The Dark Shore

I have slightly mixed feelings about Susan Howatch's books. Her 'Starbridge' series is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful, moving and brilliantly-written sets of novels I have ever read.. and re-read..... Her historical sagas, written rather earlier, are also very cleverly written and gripping, but I didn't enjoy them so much although I should perhaps re-read them one day.

But her earliest work, six short 'gothic' novels, didn't really appeal to me at all when I first read them. I picked up a 'collection' of four of them from the thrift store, read them, and returned them. I thought them well-written, but much too dark for my tastes. However that was before I had read her other work and started to consider myself a fan. In subsequent years I've gathered together all six of these short books, but haven't got around to reading them again. Until yesterday, when I picked up 'The Dark Shore'.

The story revolves around Jon, a rich businessman who works in Canada, who flies to London to marry Sarah. He has a grown-up son called Justin from his previous marriage, who has been brought up by Jon's mother. He also has some close friends in London, however it's immediately clear that there is a lot of mystery revolving around the death of Sophia, Jon's first wife.

Gradually the cast assemble at the lonely house where Sophia spent her last weekend, and both Sarah and Justin talk to various people to try and determine exactly what happened. Was Sophia's death an accident, as the coroner ruled, or murder? If the latter, who was the killer? And if the killer is now present, who might be in danger...?

The net slowly closes in, as we learn more about what happened from several different perspectives. I recognise this style now as one at which Susan Howatch excels: in the first of her Starbridge books, 'Glittering Images', she uses a similar technique.

I didn't find the book as dark as I remembered it, although I had forgotten almost everything that happened. I did find the characters reasonably sympathetic and their motivations understandable, and even in her early years Howatch's writing style stands out as concise, yet deep. I probably wouldn't have enjoyed this so much if I hadn't read her later work; it probably wouldn't even be in print still if she hadn't had such success with her recent novels. But it was a good book - surprisingly so - and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a low-key thriller with some suspense but no gore.

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