The setting for this dual-period novel is a grand old spa in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales and is inspired by the life of the author’s grandmother, who worked in a similar iconic hotel. In 2014, Laura – who describes herself as a ‘thirty-year-old virgin’ – is finding her own way in life after being severely restricted by family circumstances. She works as a waitress in a café that is part of a major redevelopment of the once-fashionable spa at Evergreen Falls. When she meets a Danish architect, Tomas, Laura has hopes of her first romantic affair.
Curiosity leads her into a crumbling off-limits area of the west wing, where she discovers a collection of passionate love letters hidden inside an old gramophone. These were sent to Violet, a maid at the hotel in its glory days in 1926, when it was frequented by Sydney’s high society. Violet’s lover is Sam, a rich heir who is on a health cure. His sister, Flora, is highly protective of her brother but also has her own rocky relationship to negotiate with her fiancé, Tony, and his unpleasant hangers-on.
Although the hotel usually closes for the winter, the manageress decides to keep it open for a few select guests and with a skeleton staff, including Violet. When a freak snowstorm cuts them off from the outside world and a tragedy ensues, a conspiracy of secrets descends that will only be unravelled years later by Laura.
The differing moral and social attitudes of the respective eras are well-defined, and the descriptions of the Blue Mountains in winter are most evocative. There is a dark undercurrent to the plot on the ravages of drug addiction, but the characters are appealing, and they hold the reader’s interest throughout. Another terrific page-turner from Kimberley Freeman.