Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor

Written by Melanie Dobson
Review by Jo Ann Butler

In 1954, Libby Doyle’s mother marries a man she doesn’t love while pregnant with another man’s child. When Maggie’s deception is revealed, Walter Doyle unwillingly accepts the child, despite her detachment from the world. Unfortunately, Lady Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor is less tolerant of Libby (who would be diagnosed with autism today). Maggie works for Lady Croft as a housekeeper, but when nine-year old Libby is ejected from school for disruption, the girl is barred from the manor as well. However, Lady Croft’s son Oliver has befriended Libby, and they continue meeting in their secret garden. Years pass; Libby is delivered of an illegitimate daughter, and Oliver is found dead in the river. When Libby disappears shortly afterward, it is thought that she followed her lover into death.

The Doyles’ younger daughter, Heather, also bears a child out of wedlock, straining her relationship with her father. When Walter dies, Heather flies over from the U.S. to sort through a lifetime of memorabilia, and finds a portfolio of beautiful butterflies. Who is the painter, and what else will Walter’s papers reveal about the Doyle family’s complicated past?

Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, by the award-winning Melanie Dobson, explores deception and redemption across the generations. Dobson deftly intertwines Libby, Maggie, and Heather’s stories in this historical mystery, and paints an especially sympathetic portrait of the autistic Libby. Walter and Heather were the victims of Maggie’s secretive ways, and I’d like to have learned more about their feelings on the subject, but Shadows is still an entertaining read.