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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The Madwoman Upstairs

The Madwoman Upstairs - Catherine Lowell

Samantha Whipple is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family... Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. 

Yet everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost books begin rematerializing in her life. Her father’s distinctive copy of Jane Eyre, which should have perished in the fire that claimed his life, mysteriously appears on Samantha’s bed. Annotated in her father’s handwriting, the book is the first of many clues in an elaborate scavenger hunt derived from the world’s greatest literature. 

 

This wasn't the scavenger hunt story I was expecting; there is a scavenger hunt, but Samantha spends a lot of the book either not getting the clues or denying there's anything to look for, so not quite the literary Goonies adventure I was expecting.  But in spite of this, the book was just so, so good.  

 

Samantha is a smart-aleck, but it comes from a place of pure terror and extreme social awkwardness.  It's a huge credit to the author that I liked Samantha anyway; she could have been a huge special-snowflake pain in the tail, but she wasn't.  It's to her further credit that I liked Samantha's tutor, in spite of saddling him with a priggish name like James Timothy Orville III and a rather stick-up-the-butt attitude.

 

The story is eyeball deep in literary discussions and the arguments of author informing the story vs. reader informing the story is a recurring theme.  I've never read any Brontë (yet) but I had no trouble following along.  Having said that, I think there would be a whole different level to the story if I had.  

 

If I have any complaints it's only that there's a ton of information about the Brontë's lives and I'd have liked to have known what was fiction and what is based on scholarly research/fact.  This book has influenced the way I look at the Brontë sisters - the whole family - and I don't know how much of that is legitimate.  Also, one very, very small plot point, but one that I recognise would have killed the story before it began (and this is a huge spoiler, not me being careful):

 

If she hated that picture so much, why didn't she just take if off the wall instead of throwing a sheet over it?

(show spoiler)

 

Still, both of those are ultimately small details in a richly written, incredibly interesting and addictive novel.  I loved every word of it.