#BookReview The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis @HodderBooks @brontemysteries

cover171547-mediumAbout the Book

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters – the Brontë sisters – learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines – it’s seeing what is not there”.

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…

Format: ebook (352 pp.)                             Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 12th September 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

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My Review

It’s 1851 and the prologue to the book sees Charlotte, now the last surviving member of the Brontë family, looking back on her and her sisters’ lives before they became famous authors.  It underlines how tragically short their lives were, Emily having died in 1848 and Anne in 1849.  Charlotte herself was to die in 1855.

The book’s very engaging premise is that the sisters were enterprising ‘detectors’ before they were novelists and The Vanished Bride represents their first case undertaken in 1845 (before, for example, the publication of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in 1847).  In a clever nod to the fact that the Brontë sisters’ novels and poems were initially published under pseudonyms (Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell) in order to disguise their gender, the author has adopted Bella Ellis as her pen-name for this new series of historical mysteries. That’s only one of very many clever nods to the works of the Brontë sisters that feature in The Vanished Bride and readers who are familiar with any of the novels of the Brontës will have great fun in spotting the allusions.  I know I did but I probably missed just as many more.   (There is also at least one allusion to another famous fictional detective in the reference to what might be described as a ‘curious incident’.)

The book also makes references to events in the lives of the sisters.  There is one especially poignant scene where Charlotte and Anne visit Scarborough as part of their  investigation and Anne remarks that, apart from Haworth, Scarborough is ‘the only other place in the world that she ever wished to be…standing on the clifftops, marvelling at the boundless magnitude of the sea, and wondering at what might lie beyond it’.

The sisters take it in turns to relate the story and, as well as making engaging narrators, it allows the reader to appreciate their different strengths when it comes to the art of ‘detecting’, neatly mirroring what you might imagine were their characters in real-life.  For example, Emily is all action, emotional and instinct, whereas Anne is methodical and thoughtful, and Charlotte is in her element when dealing with people and eliciting information.  Collectively, the sisters find their gender is a positive advantage on a number of occasions, something very different from the position they find themselves in as members of society.   Fans of Branwell Brontë will be pleased to know that he also features, although very much in an assisting role.

I wouldn’t want what I’ve said so far to put off readers who are unfamiliar with the lives or works of the Brontë sisters because The Vanished Bride works perfectly well as an engaging historical mystery even without such knowledge (although, I suspect readers may be tempted to pick up one of the sisters’ novels afterwards).  The sisters’ investigation involves everything you’d expect from a mystery: examining the scene of the crime, looking for evidence, interviewing suspects, even a bit of undercover work and an early outing for what we’d probably recognise today as psychological profiling.  Those with good powers of observation may pick up clues along the way but you definitely won’t know if they were significant or ‘red herrings’ until the final chapters.

The Vanished Bride is an accomplished, entertaining historical mystery that is also great fun for Brontë fans.  I shall certainly be looking out for future books in the series.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley

In three words: Clever, engaging, mystery

Try something similar: Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen (read my review here)

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Rowan ColemanAbout the Author

Bella Ellis is the Brontë-esque pseudonym of Rowan Coleman, an acclaimed author of numerous novels for adults and children. She first visited the former home of the Brontë sisters when she was ten years old. From the moment she stepped over the threshold she was hooked, and embarked on a lifelong love affair with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne; their life; their literature; and their remarkable legacy. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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