I fell in love of romantic suspense at a pretty early age. I used to scour my local library for Mary Stewart and Josephine Tey novels and when, many years later, I wanted to figure out how to write romantic suspense those were the writers that I read again. I wish I’d known about Catherine Gaskin back then as I’m sure she’d have been another of my favourites.
The tag line for The Property of a Gentleman is ‘one house, many secrets’ and that describes this book perfectly. The house is Thirlbeck, hidden in a secluded valley in the Lake District, and it has a very troubled history. Local legend has it that the Earls of Askew are cursed because of The Spanish Woman, who was murdered by her brother-in-law to get his hands on the title, during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Jo Roswell accompanies her friend and colleague, Gerald, to Thirlbeck at the invitation of the current Earl of Askew, Robert Birkett. Robert has recently returned to England after years of living abroad and finding that his income isn’t keeping pace with his lifestyle he’s thinking of selling off a few of the antiques that fill the house. Jo and Gerald work for London auction house, Hardy’s and they immediately spot that not everything in the house is quite what it seems. The Rembrandt self-portrait that Robert expects to raise a small fortune is actually a fake.
When Jo discovers that her mother, who was an antique dealer, had been to Thirlbeck many times but never mentioned it she starts to ask more questions. But her mother died in a plane crash in Switzerland a few weeks before and Jo’s grief twists as she starts to uncover the extent of her mother’s involvement with Thirlbeck. But that’s not the only secret that the house conceals and as Jo spends more time there more and more is revealed.
Now it’s only fair to tell you that The Property of a Gentleman was written in 1974 and for a modern audience the pace might seem a bit slow at the beginning. However I really like the slow build, that steady drip, drip of information and I can promise you that when it gets going it’s utterly gripping. I’ve read it twice now and both times I couldn’t put it down. When I mentioned to the other Write Romantics that I would be reviewing this book, Sharon said she was quite tempted but had too many things on her TBR pile. But when I said ‘it’s like Daphne Du Maurier but set in the Lakes rather than Cornwall,’ she downloaded it straight away. It’s got the same kind of strong but flawed heroine that you find in Du Maurier, a wonderful sense of place and a rather special hero. So if you like Daphne then take a break from Cornwall and check out The Property of a Gentleman.