The Taxidermist’s Daughter

Written by Kate Mosse
Review by Tracey Warr

Connie is a self-possessed young woman living in an isolated house at the edge of flooding water meadows in Sussex. She is coping with an alcoholic father, practising the delicate art of bird taxidermy, and experiencing flashbacks from a childhood accident that has left her with disquieting amnesia. Harry is the likeable, aimless son of a respectable doctor, an aspiring artist forced to work for a vulgar town merchant. Harry’s father goes missing after an argument with a mysterious stranger. As the spring waters begin to rise Connie’s father also goes missing. Can she piece together the mystery of her past? Harry and Connie meet fishing the body of a garroted woman out of the flooding river. Can Harry rise to the occasion and prove his mettle? The scene is set for an enjoyable romp through a murder mystery.

Kate Mosse delights in weaving together the tropes of the Gothic genre: a spooky graveyard, ghosts walking, an undelivered letter, birds gathering like Hitchcockian omens, an asylum, a theatre stage trap-door, a teetotal policeman, a creepy museum, and all tightly plotted around a concentrated geographical locale and a time span of three days in 1912. But the result is no formulaic novel. Mosse’s lyrical descriptions of ominous weather, dreary landscapes and encroaching waters, combine with well-drawn characters, including a particularly endearing urchin, to create an engaging world for the reader to step into: we are in that churchyard, that village pub, the bullying merchant’s office with his fearful clerk; we are in Connie’s workshop as she operates on a jackdaw. The novel is a shift from the sweeping historical epics of Mosse’s Carcassonne trilogy, Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel, but has the same fruitful use of meticulous research. A well-written page-turner.