This is a fascinatingly complex story of how the past can affect the present. Jude, the main character, still trying to come to terms with the death of her young husband four years earlier, is a specialist in 18th century books and manuscripts. When she takes a call one lunchtime, intended for another employee of the small auctioneers business where she works, she feels a frisson of interest - as a child, her grandmother lived in the gamekeeper's cottage on the estate of Starbrough Hall, home of the caller Robert Wickham. Her Gran still lives nearby, as does her pretty but prickly sister Claire, whose daughter, Summer, has started suffering the same nightmares that plagued Jude as a child - running through a forest unable to find her mother.
Both Jude's Gran, and her mother, Valerie, seem to have some past, but unacknowledged, connection to a crumbling folly built in the 18th century by astronomer Anthony Wickham, the then owner of the estate, to enable him to study the stars. As Jude searches through the old manuscripts, she unearths the journals of the young Esther Wickham, whose story unfolds alongside the modern day tale and proves even more compelling. Who was she, and where did she come from? And what happened to her after Anthony Wickham died?
There is a large cast of characters, but they're clearly defined and there's never any problem knowing who they are. There's also the astronomical history, the romantic interest surrounding Euan, a naturalist and present occupant of Gran's old home, and the tense rivalry yet edgy closeness between the sisters, Jude and Claire.
It's a novel of many facets, and I had to admire the intricate plotting which enabled the author to piece together all aspects of the story and the secrets it contains. For me, there were just two detractions: the style in the early pages seemed at times forced and unnatural, although becoming more flowing as the story progressed - Esther's 18th century voice, for instance, was beautifully conveyed; and some of the coincidences that brought the loose ends together were, for me, just a little too coincidental.
Nevertheless it's an engrossing read, a perfect story for bedtime or curled up in front of the fire as the autumnal evenings set in. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a light but intriguing read.