Title: The Woman in the Wood
Author: Lesley Pearse
Published: July 3rd 2017
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Rating: 4 stars
Fifteen-year-old Maisy Mitcham and her twin brother Duncan lose their mother to an asylum one night in 1960.
The twins are sent to their grandmother’s country house, Nightingales. Cold and distant, she leaves them to their own devices, to explore and to grow. That is until the day Duncan doesn’t come home from the woods.
With their grandmother seeming to have little interest in her grandson’s disappearance, and the police soon giving up hope, it is left to Maisy to discover the truth. And she will start with Grace Deville. A woman who lives alone in the wood, about whom rumours abound . . .
The Woman in the Wood marks bestselling British author Lesley Pearse’s twenty fifth book, which is an achievement in itself. I have followed and enjoyed Pearse’s work for some years now. The latest release from Pearse is another compelling saga, tying together a complex family drama, within a crime fiction narrative and it also features a strong historical backdrop of 1960’s Britain.
The Woman in the Wood opens in the year 1960. At the West London home of Holland Park, fifteen year old twins Duncan and Maisy Mitcham bear witness to their mother being dragged out of her home by their father and bundled into an ambulance, bound for a mental asylum. The twins are naturally confused and concerned. The morning after, they are sent by their father to live with their paternal grandmother Violet, in her stately home of ‘Nightingales’ located in the New Forest, Hampshire. The twins come from a home where they received little attention or affection and their Grandmother also appears to be a cold and uncaring lady. However, respite for the twins comes in the form of the long-standing housekeeper of Nightingales, Janice. Once they have settled in their new home, which comes complete with a private tutor, Mr Dove, they both feel the need to explore the surrounds of Nightingales. Cycling in the surrounding area of Nightingales one day, the twins stumble across a mysterious lady living in a remote shack on the edge of the forest. Local townsfolk have labelled this lady, ‘the woman in the wood’. Grace Deville a.k.a. ‘the woman in the wood’ is a recluse and a self sufficient woman, taking solace in the beautiful surrounds of the New Forest. Eventually, this woman opens up to the twins and Duncan in particular makes the effort to visit her regularly. Meanwhile, Maisy is preoccupied with her new friend Linda and some local boys, who present a potential love interest. While out on a day trip with Linda, Maisy returns home to find that Duncan has disappeared. Duncan’s disappearance is soon linked to a number of abductions and murders of local young boys in the area. Grace Deville immediately becomes one of the prime suspects. Maisy vows to do all she can to find her brother before it is too late.
It is amazing that after publishing twenty five novels, an author can continue to produce original and compelling stories for fans old and new. Lesley Pearse should be congratulated on attaining this feat. Based on my response to this novel and the previous books I have read by Pearse, it is clear that Pearse is a gifted storyteller. She has contributed much to the historical fiction field.
The Woman in the Wood begins with a dramatic and heart wrenching opening scene. The committal of Lily Mitcham, Duncan and Maisy’s troubled mother to a mental asylum, by their father, was a tough scene to open a novel with. What this opening scene does is provide a shroud of mystery over the reason for Lily’s committal and the conditions that lead up to Alastair Mitcham’s decision to lock his wife away. It also provides the reader with a good insight into the treatment of the mentally ill in post World War II England.
Pearse’s twenty fifth novel comes with an interesting character list. Pearse does a good job of depicting the deep bond that exists between twins. She takes it one step further and near the latter parts of the novel, we see how Maisy draws on her psychic bond with Duncan to find him when he goes missing. The twins are seen as separate identities, each with their own distinct personality traits. Alistair and Lily Mitcham, the twins’ parents, were easily visualised, aided by Pearse’s storytelling abilities. I sympathised greatly with the troubled Lily Mitcham. The staff at the home of Nightingales offer fine supporting roles in the unfolding story. While an air of mystery and suspense comes in the form of characters Grandmother Mitcham and main protagonist, the woman in the wood – Grace Deville. Grace was the overwhelming reason why I continued to flick the pages of this novel.
There are some interesting themes that emerge from The Woman in the Wood. There are some dark topics covered within this novel. These include mental illness, loss, murder, abduction and cruelty. Although this novel is a crime based historical fiction story, there are some lighter moments. Friendship, first love, family bonds and belonging form the crux of Pearse’s latest book.
For me, the aspect of the story that resonated the most was the time period and setting. The post World War II period of early 1960’s Britain comes to life through the penmanship of experienced historical fiction author Lesley Pearse. The dialogue, societal expectations and general manner of the characters all work to recreate this era for the current day reader to enjoy. On a more personal note, I specifically enjoyed the references to the familiar locations of the novel. I have visited the picturesque New Forest region in Hampshire, where the twins are sent to live with their Grandmother. I welcomed the chance to revisit this beautiful part of Britain, through the writing of Lesley Pearse.
Readers will find the novel’s steady pace, the air of mystery surrounding a number of characters and the crime of Duncan’s abduction to solve, all work together to keep the pages turning. Lesley Pearse’s twenty fifth release is a fine one to add to the impressive Lesley Pearse collection and it inspired me to return to her backlist.
*I received a copy of this book via the publisher, Penguin Random House Australia, in exchange for an honest review.
The Woman in the Wood, by Lesley Pearse is to be published in Australia on the 3rd July 2017 by Penguin Random House Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Woman in the Wood, Lesley Pearse, visit here.