The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

Written by Elizabeth Speller
Review by Judith Starkston

Set in post-World War I England, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is an unconventional but compelling mystery. As with her first book, Speller’s main character is Laurence Bartram, a veteran who is now a teacher; like so many of the lost generation, he has put his life back together in fits and starts. An architect friend asks Laurence, an expert on churches, to spend his break at Easton Hall to consult on the renovations of their church. On the surface, a tame and benign scene — but even the landscape and church will enter into the intrigue. There’s more mystery lying around the Easton estate than the reader can hope to guess.

Early in the novel we learn that many years before, the Eastons’ little girl disappeared one night, never to be seen again. This mystery intrigues Laurence. He finds himself drawn in further when an unidentified dead woman appears, and he realizes the fate of little Kitty is tied into puzzles involving both the village and estate in a complicated human web. How much Laurence should and will unburden on others of what he learns is one of the many subtleties of this book.

The novel builds page-turning suspense, but I find the character development most masterful. Speller’s characters are layered and subtle, as blundering and graceful as any living being. They, as much as the plot, draw you in, leaving you wanting to know their futures and their pasts. Laurence develops a romantic attachment which is as ambivalent as his dreams for the future. What will or can this man do to find love? Passion and violence rip through the polite veneer of this country home in ways that ring utterly true to life.