Still haunted by the death of her only brother, James, in the Great War, Evelyn Gifford is completely unprepared when a young nurse and her six-year-old son appear on the Giffords' doorstep one night. The child, the nurse claims, is James', conceived in a battlefield hospital. The grief-stricken Giffords take them both in; but Evelyn, a struggling attorney, must now support her entire family-at a time when work for women lawyers is almost nonexistent.
Suddenly a new case falls in Evelyn's lap: Seemingly hopeless, it's been abandoned by her male coworkers. The accused-a veteran charged with murdering his young wife- is almost certain to die on the gallows. And yet, Evelyn believes he is truly innocent, just as she suspects there may be more to the story of her "nephew" than meets the eye.
My thoughts -The Crimson Rooms is an exciting and thought provoking story of a woman struggling to change both herself and society, and all the while attempt to solve a gruesome murder mystery.
The story begins slowly, still words and muted colors revealing a London home that's still deep in mourning for a beloved son and brother (James) who died heroically in World War I. It's like time has stood still in Clivedon Hall Gardens and none of the spinster and widowed female residents (Evelyn, her mom, her aunt and grandmom, together with 2 aging female servants) know quite how to break out of this self-imposed grief. And then, like a stone tossed carelessly into still waters, Meredith arrives from Canada with Jamie's son, and the resultant ripples are life altering.
It was most intriguing to read Evelyn's struggle to establish herself in the legal profession, which is still very much a male dominion in 1924. While not exactly a suffragist, Evelyn can be considered a trailblazer even though she lacks the self-confidence and the experience needed to establish herself. Her attempts to handle the cases thrust upon her and deal with her busy and successful male partners, while doing her own investigation, reveal how in-depth the rot of male chauvinism runs and how it alternately takes the form of condescension, ridicule and rejection. Struggling every step of the way professionally, Evelyn also has to act as the pseudo-head of their all-female household and yet yield the stage to her elders who cling to the past and refuse to change.
Meredith is an enigma and like Evelyn, readers are unable to figure out her true intentions. Her shrill gaiety, colorful dresses, bold mannerisms and a grasping thirst for life are at violent odds with the grave-like sobriety and mournful pall of Evelyn's home and its residents. She's also a catalyst who, through her very presence, ignites change all around her. This comes on gradually throughout the story and in spurts of violent revelations and incidents that have a powerful impact on the women. To further complicate matters, Evelyn finds herself falling for an unsuitable man, a handsome but engaged attorney who's interested in her cases a bit too much.
McMahon's powerful and poignant words draw the picture of an uncertain world where change is almost overwhelming in its presence and yet whose existence is being denied by people mired in the rut of bygone thinking. The impact of War and its far-reaching consequences, although unseen for the most part, can be felt behind everything and everyone.
The Crimson Rooms is a bittersweet story of love lost and secrets revealed, of crime and passion. It takes readers on a journey that's a bit meandering, but ultimately very rewarding. The intriguing way it ends makes me hope that we'll get more to read about Evelyn's story, see how she makes the most of her new life and career.
The book will be available at the following online retailers: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and Indie Bound
Disclosure - I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by MotherTalk on behalf of G.P. Putnam's Sons / Riverhead and received a copy of the book to facilitate my candid review. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate
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