Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Emma's Review: One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Accept it, he is dead.
No, it’s not true.
It is. Everyone thinks so except you.

Forced to leave their family home in London after it is bombed, Maddie and her two young daughters take refuge at Knyghton, the beautiful country house in Norfolk where Maddie’s husband Philip spent the summers of his childhood.

But Philip is gone, believed to have been killed in action in northern France. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Maddie refuses to give up hope that she and Philip will some day be reunited. 

Arriving at Knyghton, Maddie feels closer to her missing husband, but she soon realises that there’s a reason Philip has never spoken to her about his past. Something happened at Knyghton one summer years before. Something that involved Philip, his cousin Lyle and a mysterious young woman named Flora. 

Maddie’s curiosity turns to desperation as she tries to discover the truth, but no one will speak about what happened all those years ago, and no one will reassure her that Philip will ever return to Knyghton.

Book Links: Kindle or Hardcover

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster UK via NetGalley for my copy of One Moonlit Night to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

I’ve long been a fan of Rachel Hore when I stumbled across one of her earlier books, The Memory Garden many years ago in my local library and since then I have read everything she has written. I enjoy all her books but the last few I found to be just OK but with this new book, One Moonlit Night, I definitely feel the author is back to the form of her earlier books and from the moment I picked it up I couldn’t leave it out of my hands. I had other books I should have been reading before this one but this story, its setting and its characters just called to me and I kept reading until I reluctantly turned the last page. It’s an absorbing and beautiful, atmospheric read full of tension and mystery and reminded me why I love historical fiction so much. Fans of Judith Lennox and Kate Morton will love this book as it has plenty of family secrets and an enigma at its centre. I felt like I had travelled back in time deep into the English countryside during the war years with the family home Knyghton at the centre of the story where there is an air of tension, unease and suspense. What are the people who reside there hiding? Will the house give up what it has concealed for so many years? 

A brief prologue set in 1977 introduces us to Grace who is waiting in a teashop for someone. She has a sister Sarah and a letter had recently arrived that had shocked the family back into the past. We do not hear more from the timeline set in 1977 until the very end and to be honest I completely forgot it had even been mentioned simply because I became totally captured by the story that followed set during the war years. That’s not to take away from the importance of the meeting that Grace is waiting to happen. It is crucial to the plot and helps things come full circle but at the end I was jolted back to that time period and I would have loved just a little bit more even a few pages as it felt just too quick. But really that’s a very minor issue in the overall scheme of things considering I really enjoyed and embraced this book from beginning to end. 

London, 1941 and Maddie Anderson awakes to find herself and her two daughters Sarah and Grace in unfamiliar surroundings. Then it all comes rushing back to her, the night before they had barely escaped with their lives when a bomb destroyed their family home.They are left with nothing except some bare essentials and a package rescued from the rubble. The package belongs to her husband Philip who has been missing in action, presumed dead, since his unit was slaughtered in cold blood.The package contains a photograph album of Knygthon, Philips family home, the house in Norfolk where he lived with his Great Aunt Gussie when his parents were living in India. Maddie knows nothing about the time Philip spent there and a mysterious figure in the background of one of the photos catches her eye. 

Maddie has no one to turn to as her father had remarried and he himself is unwell so bravely she makes the decision to leave London and travel to Knygthon hoping there will be a welcome for her and the girls. In doing so, she hopes she will feel closer to Philip and it will help her accept what has befallen him. Throughout the book, Maddie never wavered in her belief that because nothing had yet been officially been confirmed about Philip that he may still be out there somewhere and unable to communicate his whereabouts. Others may have given up and attempted to move on with their lives but she couldn’t let any small glimmer of hope go until she had true evidence in front of her. She is strong in the face of adversity and the many challenges and unexplained things that she encounters and the love for both her husband and her children radiates from every page.

There was a varied cast of characters that lived at Knyghton and the surrounding village of Monkton and although Maddie knows full well the affects of war it’s like when the trio arrive at the manor house that the war seems to be on the outskirts. Yes, there is the farm where the Land Girls work and Philips cousin Lyle is struggling to keep it going and the war does affect them in that sense also. But Knyghton, as in the house itself, embraces Maddie and the girls and offers protection where they can try and forgot about being bombed out and try and establish a new life for themselves. But the inhabitants are all dealing with their own issues, worries, troubles and insecurities and Maddie doesn’t feel like she has received the welcome she would have liked. 

Why do the residents of Monksfield hold something against Great Aunt Gussie and her family? Why is Sarah shunned by the pupils at her new school and why does Maddie feel an unusual presence as she wanders the rooms of the house where paintings of past ancestors stare down at her? Cook Mrs Flegg and her husband Mr Flegg seem amiable enough but what are they not saying or who are they protecting? And what of Christine, the woman Maddie employs to take care of Grace whilst she works on her illustrations for a children’s book? There was something distinctly off about her. Just what do the walls of Knygthon know? Are they ready to reveal what seems to be haunting/following the inhabitants of the manor house? Can Maddie get to the bottom of the atmosphere, unease and things left unsaid that seem to echo from every corner and everyone?

Knyghton becomes a lifeline for Maddie and the girls but there is something unusual that Maddie feels when she enters certain rooms and when she is working on her illustrations something seems to take over her. She finds herself drawing a picture of a young girl she has never met. Here there was a slight supernatural element that entered the book as well as Maddie seeing thing’s and usually I would find this laughable and so unrealistic but here it works so well and fitted in perfectly with the overall tone and mood of the book. It worked well and only added a heightened sense of unrest and of Maddie needing to find out just what went on at the house which has led to Lyle being so aloof and argumentative and Gussie becoming a person almost cut off from the real world and retreating into a small cocoon with just her and her beloved dogs. It was as if the heart of Knygthon had been lost and was filled with empty ghosts.

Maddie becomes determined to ask the questions that linger in the air and she treads where others wish she wouldn’t and I was with her every step of the way as I desperately wanted to know what had happened in the past to make everyone so closed off. Lyle was a moody man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I found him to be abrupt with Maddie and it was as if he was going through some mental torment of his own. I thought Maddie tiptoed around him in fear of upsetting him further but surely there would come a point when he would have to open up the further Maddie approached the truth. As for Gussie, in her old age, she seemed so innocent and away with the fairies but deep down you just knew she was fully aware of what was going on and what had occurred in the past. She was lost in a world of memories and Maddie needed to find the key to unlock them.

One Moonlit Night is an excellent read and the author was an expert at creating strong voices for her characters. The descriptive writing helped build a clear image of Knygthon and the surrounding landscape which adds to your overall reading enjoyment. Maddie is a character who I have deep admiration for because she never gives up hope that Philip may return to her but at the same time the bravery and courage she has in establishing a new and life for both herself and her daughters is admirable and deserves due respect. When Maddie had no choice but to leave London, she couldn’t even begin to realise the journey she would be taken on but in doing so it brought her closer to Philip and she came to know more about her husband and his family. There were so many things he kept secret from her and maybe this was for the best because Maddie reawakened Knyghton from its slumber and she had characters questioning themselves and revealing things which should not have been kept under wraps. This is a fantastic story with a realistic plot and just the right amount of twists and turns to keep you guessing. I love when a surprise is revealed at the last minute which in turn helps tie all the strands of the story come together so satisfyingly and this occurred here. I have no hesitation in recommending this book. It’s gripping and I could think of nothing better than an afternoon spent in the sunshine becoming lost in the world of Knyghton.

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