The Lost Melody

Review by Valerie Adolph

Set in northern England in 1886, most of this story takes place in what was called a lunatic asylum. On the death of her father, the protagonist, concert pianist Vivienne Mourdant, is shocked to find that not only has she inherited his considerable debts but she has also inherited the guardianship of his ward, Rosamund Swansea.

Rosamund is a patient of the Hurstwell asylum, having been deemed unfit to care for herself. As Vivienne puzzles over the identity of her new ward, she is offered a small income to go to Hurstwell to bring music to the patients in the hope of creating some relief for them. She takes a menial position there to become familiar with the asylum and its people. But she has taken on a far larger task than she could have imagined.

This novel reveals a great deal of research into conditions in asylums of an earlier time as well as into the fragility of the mental health of both staff and patients alike. The theme of music being ever-present in the mental landscape of everyone is clearly presented, as is its ability to connect with even the most severely ill people and bring them comfort.

The author introduces the requisite elements of spine-tingling horror: the tunnel, a priest’s hole, a ‘lost’ tower, complete with screams, echoes and unpredictably dangerous patients. The level of tension is high throughout, sometimes taking the focus away from the theme of the importance of music to the mental well-being of all of us.