As in her earlier, acclaimed novel, The Legacy, author Katherine Webb designs her new story, The Unseen, around a dual time frame. We begin in 1911, with a young woman, Cat, who has been brought from a questionable past into the household of a young couple living in a Berkshire village. The Reverend Albert Canning seems at first competent in carrying out his religious obligations, less so in performing his husbandly duties. (After one year the marriage has not been consummated.) His wife Hester is heartbreakingly naïve and confused about her wedded life. Before long another intrusion arrives to turn the summer swelter up another notch. Canning, who claims to have seen fairies in the fields nearby, invites an “expert” to come stay with them. And it appears that Robin Durrant has more than enough charm and masculine appeal to make up for the reverend’s sexual timidity.
When we aren’t with the Cannings we are in present time, following young journalist, Leah, who has been alerted by her ex-boyfriend to the discovery of the body of a WWI soldier who was carrying letters that might lead to a dark mystery. Of course we can expect these two storylines to come together, and they do. But the stronger and more interesting of the two is that in 1911, which could stand on its own. The tension is palpable from the very beginning of the novel. Webb is a deft hand at grabbing readers’ attention. The characters may not always be likeable, but they are intriguing and provocative. Although the middle of the novel suffers from a dragging pace, there still is a gripping need to find out what, indeed, will happen to these tortured people – and on that basis, the novel succeeds. A good read, superior writing, but requiring patience at times.