The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

by Elizabeth Speller

When the body of an unknown woman is discovered on the grounds of the Easton manor house, World War I veteran Lawrence Bartram is drawn into a dangerous labyrinth where the family's secrets are lurking—and among them might be the fate of Kitty Easton, the girl who vanished from their home fifteen years earlier. A gripping new installment in Elizabeth Speller’s literary mystery series set in England between the wars.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544002036
  • ISBN-10: 0544002032
  • Pages: 416
  • Publication Date: 06/11/2013
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book

    "Leisurely and absorbing . . . a series to be savoured."—The Guardian (UK)

    When Great War veteran Laurence Bartram arrives in Easton Deadall, he is struck by the beauty of the crumbling manor, venerable church, and memorial to the village’s soldiers. But despite this idyllic setting, Easton Deadall remains haunted by tragedy. In 1911, five-year-old Kitty Easton disappeared from her bed and has not been seen since.

    While Lawrence is visiting, a young maid vanishes in a sinister echo of Kitty’s disappearance. And when a body is discovered in the manor’s ancient church, Laurence is drawn into the grounds’ forgotten places, where deadly secrets lie in wait.

    "Speller’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut, The Return of Captain John Emmett, is a well-crafted mystery with intriguing historical details and measured pacing that creates suspense. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and readers who enjoy well-drawn characters in historicals will add this to their wish list."—Library Journal

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    CHAPTER ONE

    Laurence Bartram was waiting for a late connection at Swindon station. It was a bright April day and he had been glad to leave London: a city teeming with the crowds drawn in by Empire Exhibition fever. Now, as he looked beyond the water tower towards the vast marshalling yards and busy workshops of the Great Western Railway, the metallic clangour, the smell of oil and coal, and the distant shouted exchanges of railwaymen filled the air. There was order in the rows of trains in their cream and brown livery and then the tidy terraces of railway cottages, but behind them the sweep of the hills to the southwest rose, bigger than all of it.
      Once settled on the train, Laurence felt in his pocket for the three letters he had brought with him, all of which he needed to respond to. It was the one from William Bolitho, an architect, asking him to look at Easton Deadall church that had intrigued him and brought him on this journey. Alongside the church, Lydia Easton, who had the small estate of Easton Hall, hoped to create a maze to remember the many men from the village who had died during the war. It was an odd sort of memorial Laurence had thought, re-reading William’s letter. But Mrs Easton was also improving the estate workers’ cottages. William had been sanguine; he wrote that the job was basically roofing, painting and installing water closets. But planning the geometry of a maze had evidently been some compensation for the more mundane improvements and recently Mrs Easton had raised the possibility of a new window in the church to commemorate her late husband. ‘I’ve sketched ideas – found a London man to do the practical stuff – but I’d really appreciate it if you could come and take a look at the church itself,’ William had written. ‘The building has charm. But it’s an odd sort of a place, clumsily restored last century but recently one of the workmen was scraping off some decaying floor covering, when he started to expose quite an elaborate geometric design beneath. I sense it’s very old and don’t want to damage it with our rather basic skills. Do come and share your expertise.’
      Laurence pulled out his watch as the small branch line train finally approached Marlborough. It was twenty-five minutes late. As the engine slowed, Laurence’s eyes fixed on a single woman who waited on the platform with a boy beside her. Eleanor Bolitho was hatless and coatless. Since he’d last seen her her long red hair had been cut into a thick bob. Her son, Nicholas, was pulling her towards the engine, but Eleanor’s eyes were passing up and down the carriages, her hand shading her eyes from the spring sunlight.
      Three or four other people got off the train and an elderly porter moved purposefully towards him. Laurence handed over his suitcase just as Eleanor saw him and waved heartily, pointing him out to her son. She reached Laurence and flung her arms around his neck, almost knocking his hat off.
      ‘William will be so pleased you’ve come,’ she said. ‘What a stroke of luck you have so many breaks and that you know everything there is to know about churches.’ She made it sound as if his being a schoolmaster had been an intermittent pastime, but her enthusiasm was flattering.
      ‘Laurence is a teacher,’ she said to Nicholas, ‘so I expect he’ll want to practise on you and will be very strict.’
      The boy, slim and dark, looked up at Laurence and smiled tentatively.
      ‘David – he works on the estate – has driven us over,’ Eleanor said. ‘As the train was late he’s gone off to deliver something for Lydia but he’ll be back any minute. I’ll tell you all about the place, on the way, but I know you are going to like Easton. Later you can start to think about the church – William thinks it’s jolly old. Don’t let him make you do it today. He tends to sweep everybody up into his enthusiasms. See, even I’m doing it.’
      ‘I hope I can be as useful as he thinks.’
      Laurence was very keen to see the church for himself. He didn’t know the village and the church was not in any books, perhaps because it had been deconsecrated for many decades before Mrs Easton’s dead parents-in-law had petitioned their bishop to bring it back into use. According to William Bolitho’s letter, there were rarely any services now.
      ‘How’s Mary?’ Eleanor asked, with what she probably thought was nonchalance.
      ‘Committed,’ he said, wryly, thinking of one of the other letters he had with him. ‘Tell me what lies ahead,’ he said, changing the subject.
      ‘Well, I can’t tell you what a blessing it’s been, Frances and her sister inviting us here,’ Eleanor said. ‘You’ll like Frances – she’s clever and straightforward – but she’s a bit stuck at Easton Hall, I think. She ought to be making her own life not hanging around like a Victorian spinster on the edge of somebody else’s, but . . .’ She shrugged.
       ‘And her sister, Mrs Easton?’
      ‘Lydia.’ Eleanor sighed and then spoke in such a low voice that he could hardly hear her at first, but he realised it was Nicholas she was trying to protect although the small boy had moved away to watch house martins feeding their chicks in a nest under the platform roof. ‘She’s lovely. Gentle, kind, frail. Seems . . . a bit detached at times, not in a cold way, but just not part of us all, increasingly so in the last few weeks. She’s not forty yet but she’s slightly rheumatic and with her poor health and of course her beastly, tragic life, she looks older, poor woman.’ She stopped as if expecting an immediate response. ‘You remember the Easton case of course?’
      He didn’t.
      ‘Lydia’s quite a bit older than Frances – they’re only half-sisters. They were both born in America, not that you can tell – they’ve been in England most of their lives. She must have married Digby Easton twenty years or so ago. They had just one child: Katherine – Kitty. Before the war, when Kitty was five, she disappeared.’
      She shook her head. There was a sudden exhalation of steam and the train started to pull out. Nicholas was jumping with excitement. Eleanor turned and smiled as she watched him but then her face changed. ‘It’s unimaginable, losing your only child and never having any idea of what happened to them.’
      As the train disappeared, the stationmaster let Nicholas wave the flag. Eleanor’s eyes never left him.
      ‘But that’s how it was,’ Eleanor said, turning back again. ‘They left her in bed, asleep, and in the morning she was gone.’
      ‘Good God,’ Laurence said, the whole overwhelming story taking time to sink in. ‘William said they’d lost a child, but I’d assumed there’d been some illness. I can just remember the case now I think. I suppose I was at Oxford.’
       ‘Poor Lydia,’ Eleanor said, standing up. ‘She never saw Kitty again, never had another child and then war came and in 1917 Digby was killed.’ Eleanor stopped, as if still shocked by the enormity of Lydia’s loss. ‘Did William mentioned the memorial maze? Most of the men in the village were lost in France as well,’ she continued eventually. ‘The usual stupid thing: they all joined together. S...

  • Reviews
    Laurence Bartram is a British architectural scholar, a veteran of World War I, and a man who has lost his wife, infant son, and much of his hold on life. Speller, who introduced Bartram in her first novel, thewidely acclaimed The Return of Captain John Emmett (2011), picks up the theme of the great losses that devastated England in the wake of the Great War. The novel is set in a Wiltshire village, the aptly namedEaston Deadall, which the war has totally cleared of young, able-bodied men, leaving only widows,children, and old men hanging on. Invited to the village to give his advice on a projected maze tocommemorate the war dead, Bartram is drawn into the tragedy that hangs over the Easton family aspalpably as the atmosphere in Poe’s House of Usher. Lady Easton’s five-year-old daughter, Kitty,disappeared in 1911, and no body or evidence has yet been found. Shortly after Bartram’s arrival, akitchen maid goes missing. And then a body is found in the Saxon church next to the manor. Whether Bartram is examining the intricate bestiary of a Saxon arch, the extravagance of the Victorian house itself,or the geometry of the planned maze, he brings a sense of how his interest in architecture, somethingoutside the doom of the Great War, may yet save him. An intriguing leas character and fascinating subject matter, skilfully realized.--Booklist, STARRED review

    Laurence Bartram, a veteran of the Great War, is called by an old army comrade, William Bolitho, to Easton Deadall, a small manor house in the west of England, to help out with architectural work. Bolitho will be installing a memorial window in the manor’s church in honor of the men the Easton family and its village sacrificed in World War I. Lydia, the widowed lady of the manor, is still haunted by the disappearance of her five-year-old daughter, Kitty, 13 years earlier. As Laurence unravels the mysteries of the ancient church, he also learns more about the greater mysteries that surround the village and the Easton family’s dark secrets. VERDICT Speller’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut, The Return of Captain John Emmett, is a well-crafted mystery with intriguing historical details and measured pacing that creates suspense. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and readers who enjoy well-drawn characters in historicals will add this to their wish list.--Library Journal

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