Title: Eleanor’s Secret
Author: Caroline Beecham
Published: April 24th 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Historical/Contemporary, Mystery
Rating: 4.5 stars
An engrossing wartime mystery of past deceptions, family secrets and long-lasting love…London, 1942
When art school graduate, Eleanor Roy, is recruited by the War Artists Advisory Committee, she comes one step closer to realising her dream of becoming one of the few female war artists. But breaking into the art establishment proves difficult until Eleanor meets painter, Jack Valante, only to be separated by his sudden posting overseas.
Although reluctant to leave her family at home, Kathryn can’t refuse her grandmother Eleanor’s request to travel to London to help her return a precious painting to its artist. But when the search uncovers a long-held family secret, Kathryn has to make a choice to return home or risk her family’s future, as Eleanor shows her that safeguarding the future is sometimes worth more than protecting the past.
Eleanor’s Secret is at once a surprising mystery and compelling love story.
Eleanor’s Secret, the second novel from author Caroline Beecham promises to be ‘an engrossing wartime mystery of past deceptions, family secrets and long-lasting love…’. I go this and so much more from this first rate dual time frame narrative novel.
Eleanor’s Secret transports the reader to London in the year 1942, a time of war, uncertainty and great upheaval. Eleanor Roy is the central protagonist of this mystery, come love story. Eleanor is an art school graduate who takes on a position at the War Artists Advisory Committee. We quickly learn Eleanor has ambitions to become one of the few female war artists active at this time. Her efforts to break into the field prove extremely difficult. Then, a painter by the name of Jack Valante enters Eleanor’s life and he tries to help her cause. The budding relationship between the two is intercepted by Jack’s posting overseas in the war effort. Beecham then transports the reader to a contemporary storyline, based in 2010. Eleanor Roy’s granddaughter Kathryn has been asked to visit her grandmother to assist in returning a valuable painting to the artist who painted it. We learn it is a tough exercise for Kathryn, leaving her home on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, Australia. Kathryn has an autistic son, a failing relationship and a business to run back home. However, the pull to help her grandmother at her time of need and solve an old family mystery encourages Kathryn’s resolve to make things right.
Eleanor’s Secret falls into a genre or category that I simply adore, dual time zone narratives based on family secrets from the past, which a figure in the present day must solve. I always enjoy stories based on old family relics and how these represent the key to unlocking a deep secret. Eleanor’s Secret bedazzled me from the start to the finish. While some readers before me have commented on the slow pace of the novel, this was the opposite for me. I lapped up this novel in three greedy helpings and I do not feel an ounce of guilt in indulging in this richly told tale!
I was first introduced to the work of Caroline Beecham, the author of Eleanor’s Secret, when I read her 2016 release and debut novel, Maggie’s Kitchen, another fine example of a historical fiction novel. Beecham revisits wartime London again, showing us how well versed she is in bringing important historical events and key figures to life. I can only imagine just how much research Beecham undertook in the making of this novel. Her dedication to her craft shines through this novel. Eleanor’s Secret is dripping in pitch perfect period detail, to the finest degree. Beecham covers everything from the food, fashions, cultural pursuits, morals and social attitudes of the time, the sense of destruction to London’s architecture, to the dialogue, which is authentic.
As a keen reader of all things historical and World War II based, I was left in awe as yet again, I was introduced to an aspect or area of history ignored until the production of this book. Eleanor’s Secret works to draw out attention to the forgotten artists of the war, who brought us so many striking images, capturing heartbreaking war experiences. Beecham goes that one step further and uncovers the important history of female war artists. There were very few of these talented figures in the war, but Beecham gives these trailblazers the recognition they deserve through Eleanor’s story.
It can be tricky to balance a contemporary based narrative with such a rich historical story thread. I think Beecham does an absolutely amazing job of balancing the two narratives equally. I came to value Kathryn’s 2010 journey just as much as the historical fiction thread, it is a vital instrument in sewing together the story as a whole. I really connected to Kathryn’s character and appreciated her back story, her vulnerability, as well as her determination to get to the bottom of her grandmother’s past. I developed an affection for Eleanor, both in the past and present day, which helped me to genuinely care about her story.
Romance has a smaller part to play in Eleanor’s Secret, but I feel it was handled in such a great way by Beecham. It is deeply romantic, capturing the rushed feelings during wartime and the worry that the one you love one may never come back from their posting. I felt every moment of Jack and Eleanor’s romance, it was a classic and heart rendering love story. Beecham is skilled in the art of the gradual reveal; we receive little breadcrumbs along the way to help us grasp Jack and Eleanor’s relationship demise, which is also cleverly connected to the central mystery of the painting in the present day. These elements all worked to draw me into this finely executed novel.
Back when I reviewed Caroline Beecham’s first novel, Maggie’s Kitchen in 2016, I stated this novel was, ‘an original wartime story, with a hint of romance that I absolutely recommend’. I agree this is quite the case for Eleanor’s Secret, Beecham’s second effort. I am going to go that one step further and issue this deserving historical fiction narrative with a full five star rating. If you do select Eleanor’s Secret to read, do not let the ‘Afterword’ section pass you by, or Caroline’s website, which adds another essential layer to this wonderful tale.
Eleanor’s Secret was published on 24th April 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Eleanor’s Secret, Caroline Beecham visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Eleanor’s Secret is book #59 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge
Allen and Unwin are kindly offering 3 lucky readers an opportunity to win a copy of Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham. Simply leave a comment below on why you would like to win a copy of Eleanor’s Secret to be entered into this great competition!
*Competition open to Australian postal addresses only. Closes 12th June 2018.