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Darsham's Tower by Harriet Esmond
Darsham's Tower (original UK title: Darsham's Folly) by Harriet Esmond

Review contains no spoilers.

Excellent romantic suspense with gothic elements by Harriet Esmond (alias John Burke). Burke (b. 1922) is a prolific British novelist whose career spans seven decades and at least as many genres. Under the Esmond pseudonym, he wrote gothics in collaboration with his wife, Jean Burke.

Darsham's Tower begins with a quotation from the Marquis de Vauvenargues: "The head does not know what the heart is after." The novel is true to this theme from start to finish, and our heroine, Kate Quantrill, must endure the hardship of experience before she learns what her heart is after.

The setting, the tiny harbor town of Senwich on the coast of Suffolk in eastern England, is rendered with delicacy and skill. Nowhere is there excessive detail but the scenery is made richly vivid to the reader, as if he were watching a movie. The heroine, Kate Quantrill, the daughter of a sea captain, is equally nuanced, a flesh-and-blood character of great charisma. One feels devoted to her from the start, and follows her through the twists and turns of the story, hoping that she will make the right decisions but understanding when she sometimes doesn't. Ultimately, though, her high character and common sense see her through. The ending of the novel is satisfyingly complex in its blend of justice, tragedy, and redemption.

This book shows clearly how an author can satisfy the expected requirements of a popular genre and yet maintain a high degree of style, historical authenticity, atmosphere and high-mindedness. The period (mid-19th Century) is evoked as only the best historical writers can; the tautly constructed plot moves along with nary a bump, gaining momentum toward the end. If I were to quibble at anything, I might have wished for a little more gothic and a little less romance; but overall I enjoyed reading this book so much that I will seek out anything else written under the Esmond moniker.

Nine out of ten stars!

After I read your very positive review, I was pleased to find a copy of this book in my small gothics-still-to-be-read-pile, looking forward to an enjoyable read. Alas, while reading I once again concluded my taste and yours, Penfeather, are not the same.

At first I really admired how the author could put so many facts in so few sentences, and I expected a fast-paced read. Then later I realized less is not always more. A reader obviously needs words to be able to become engaged in a story, and when there's a lack of words, that's not going to happen. For instance, in the space of two pages an important person goes missing, is found dead, is subject of an inquest and gets buried. How are we to learn how the other people's life and feelings are affected by this death in just two pages? I think this abrupt writing style will keep the characters two-dimensional. Noone becomes likeable, not even the heroine and her prospective suitor(s). The heroine has a sharp tongue, but otherwise has a very passive and docile personality. When she notices Mr. Darsham's roving eye on her, she somehow translates that in him being her one and true love, causing her to spurn the attentions of another young man interested in her. Nevertheless, both men get to kiss her and will tell her they will marry her, and Kate doesn't make her own feelings clear and comes across as very undecisive.
At one time in the book (on page 129 in my Coronet edition) the readers are cheated out of this decision suspense when the author gives us a glimpse of a future together, which she should have packaged as imagination of either party instead of stating it as fact by the omniscient storyteller.

The story wasn't fast-paced at all until the end. Three quarters of the book are quite boring. We slowly are told the circumstances that lead to Kate coming to live at Darsham's Folly. Once there, you would have thought some romantic interaction with Mr. Darsham might follow. And where are the gothic elements that scare the heroine and place her life in danger? The suspense is totally lacking. There is a mystery to be solved, but in my opinion the person in question places too much importance on this mystery and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the heroine.
When circumstances are at their direst for the protagonists, the author uses a blatant deus ex machina. She also contrived to have the story culminating its several plot lines at the same time. So while people are in danger and need to be rescued, time is wasted on telling life stories.

I was thoroughly disappointed with the novel and will award it a 4 out of 10.
I read it a few years ago, and I didn't care for it either. I think what turned me off was that the blurb on the back made it seem very Gothic and suspenseful, and it wasn't. I was looking for more ghosts, secret passages, middle-of-the-night-attempted-murders, etc.

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