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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Darkest Hour
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I haven't read Barbara Erskine for a long time, not since 'Lady of Hay', and I'm happy to say I enjoyed 'The Darkest Hour' and found it a very good read.

Lead character, Lucy, is recently widowed when she suddenly receives news that some money is coming her way. It's money she uses to fund research into the life and times of war artist Evie Lucas. Lucy is keen to produce a biography and so off she goes in search of the mysterious Ms. Lucas. There are reasons Lucy's intrigued by the artist that link back to her late husband but; I'm not leaving spoilers and I'm not telling you what those reasons are!.

The clever thing about stories that use genealogy is how much leverage that gives the author. There can be so many skeletons in a family cupboard and Barbara Erskine takes that idea just about as far as possible without it becoming unbelievable. We have Evie's grandson, Michael, who seems reluctant at first but then perhaps a little too keen to help. Why?. It's here the supernatural angles begin and ghosts suddenly march through the plot adding a little of their own story to fill in Evie's background history and add more and more intrigue, plus some darkness, to Lucy's research. Why do people seem so reluctant to help only to then change their minds?.

The World War II scenery is nicely evoked and the life and times of the people, how they act differently during conflict, nicely handled.

Barbara Erskine mixes her supernatural events with family research to tell the tale of a love story from the past and contrasts it against the dreadful grief threatening to overshadow Lucy. That's the joy of the novel. There's so much shadow and shade, so many strands reaching out only to be drawn together in a way that's thoroughly entertaining and believable. It's all cleverly done and the slow unveiling of Evie's life quite intriguing. Certainly kept me hooked to the point I read the novel over one weekend.

Happy to recommend this emotional, bitter sweet, novel.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2015
Most established authors stick to a successful formula once they've found it - and why wouldn't they? - but with Barbara Erskine it's more of a cast iron template.
This tale of widow Lucy, who takes on more than she bargained for when writing the biography of mysterious war artist Evie, follows the pattern exactly: a fragile, plucky and beautiful Mary Sue heroine, at a turning point in her life, is sucked into a mystery and has to grapple with the forces of good and evil in past and present. A handy and handsome hero and a supporting cast of also-rans are happy to rush to her aid at the drop of a hat (not many people are hampered by 9 to 5 jobs in these stories), until the ghosts of the past are (literally) exorcised.
There are plenty of five star reviews for this book, so I'm guessing that most fans weren't disappointed at getting more of the same. Both plot and characters are paper-thin in places, but there's enough suspense to keep you turning the page, with a couple of neat twists towards the end. You might get a bit short-tempered with our droopy heroines in both the modern and wartime sections, and wonder why no-one ever thinks to consult a solicitor, call the police or even have a proper conversation for so many pages. You might think these particular ghosts and baddies are just a little bit on the daft side. But it makes no claims to be anything other than undemanding escapism, and there are plenty of readers like me who are happy to give the author of Lady of Hay yet another chance.
Just two observations: another terrible cover - were there many Battle of Britain pilots with designer stubble and a haircut like that? And it's a shame that the photographs of the author's father, a real-life fighter pilot, that are included at the end are so poorly reproduced as to be indecipherable.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2014
I have loved all of Barbara Erskine's books and this latest edition is no exception. An enigmatic artist who wished to capture the lives of the airman who valiantly fought against overwhelming odds through the Battle of Britain. A young woman whose talent captured the human side of war on her canvas. Evie's life is far from simple, juggling her painting with the hard work of keeping the family farm working through the hardships of the Second World War. Falling in love with a young Pilot Officer, manipulated by the shadowy son of neighbours whose vengeful spirit will continue to affect the family members in the future. From the 1940's to current times the characters lives, loves & heartaches seep into your sole. Even after death her beloved brother tries to put right a wrong which he was unable to prevent because of his untimely death in the skies above Sussex, when the few gave so much for the many. A spectoral battle with the manipulative man who controlled his sister over much of her adult life. The dedicated biographer who in striving for the truth stirs up the ghosts of the past and finds it hard to come to terms with her own loss in the present. Hard to put down I was so engaged with the story that I finished it in two days. Don't miss this book if you do you just might regret it.....
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2014
A brilliant read. I think this is one of my favourite books by the author. I was engaged with the story and characters from the first page through to the end. Definitely a book I will read again and again. The story is set in the present day and 1940s southern England during the Battle of Britain; the author's father was in the RAF and I think this personal research shines through in how comfortable she is with her subject matter and how smoothly the story builds towards the confrontation at the end. The author deals well with the jealousy and misunderstandings that occur, and shows how precious are those support characters we all need in our lives.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2014
Having read all of Barbara Erskine's books, personal favourite Lady of Hay, I found Darkest Hour very disappointing. Her books have a supernatural theme but this was boring, unbelivable and a bit silly. I was glad when it came to an end! (Sorry Barbara!) I also thought the way it had been written was a little old fashioned given that it was set in todays time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2014
So disappointed. I usually love Barbara Erskine's books but am totally bored and half way through have decided to read something else instead. (and that was after perseverance ).
Have always been a big fan especially of the earlier books which I re-read every now and then, but, this in my opinion is a real let down.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
I am not always too keen on books which have a World War II element but as this one is by Barbara Erskine – whose books I enjoy – I decided to read it anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself totally absorbed in the story – both past and present. Lucy’s husband has died in an unexplained car crash and shortly afterwards she hears she has received a grant to help her fund the research and writing of a biography of Evie Lucas – an almost forgotten war artist. Lucy became interested in the subject after her husband had bought a painting he believed to be by Evie.

Lucy’s research leads her to Michael Marston, Evie’s grandson, who now lives in what was Evie’s cottage and which still contains many of her personal possessions. At first Michael is rather cool about the idea of a biography but gradually he warms to the idea and that is where the problems begin. Ghosts, both benevolent and malign, start appearing, Michael’s girlfriend, Charlotte, shows herself in her true colours and people Lucy approaches in her research blow first hot and then cold. Where will it all end?

I found many of the scenes in this book extremely poignant – probably because they resonated with my personal circumstances and a recent loss. I found myself in tears over Lucy’s grief for her husband and over Evie’s love affair with Tony, the charming airman. I thought the supernatural elements were as ever very well done and I loved the way the strands of the stories were interwoven as more and more was gradually revealed of Evie’s life. The evil people were convincingly evil and yet at the same time all too human.

I thought the characters were well drawn and the way they changed during the book was convincing and believable. I particularly liked Huw and his wife Maggie as well as Michael’s mother, Juliette. The book as ever with this author, is well written and the research is meticulous. The World War II sections were excellent and really showed how the war affected ordinary people and made them do things they might never have considered in peacetime.

Barbara Erskine’s many fans will love this book even though the historical elements are relatively recent. If you like time-slip books then give this one a try.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2014
Yet another brilliant book from Barbara Erskine. Lucy struggling to cope after the tragic death of her husband receives a grant to write a book about Evie Lucas a WWII artist. Written from Evie's vewpoint as well as Lucy's we meet some fascinating characters along the way. Both women are caught up in misunderstandings and I think Lucy stands out as the stronger character of the two, determined to get to the truth about Evie's life despite several set backs from Evie's descendants who will not talk or simply 'forget to mention'!!

To my mind Huw and Maggie give a lot of credence to the ghost part of the story. Let's face it without ghosts there would be no Barbara Erskine, and she never fails to use Christianity to fight the evil spirits. If I have to have one negative aspect to the book I would say the ending was a bit too Harry Potter-ish for me.

I just didn't want the book to end. It is nearly as good as Lady of Hay and I look forward to the next Erskine book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2014
I llove Barbara Erskine's books, but have to say I don't think this was one of her best. In fact I found it a bit boring and predictable and found some of the characters rather too dimensional - unusual for her. I also thought that both heroines - past and present - were a bit wimpy and not entirely believable. I wanted to give Evie a good shaking for letting Marston take advantage of her. This wouldn't put me off reading more of her books, but this one is bottom of the list of likely rereads.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2014
Had Barbara Erskine name not been on the front cover,I would never have recognised
her writing.This lady is one of my favourite,,I have. All her books which I read over again,
and again.I was so dissapointed I gave up half way through the book.I hope this is just
a one off,and that she will be back on form. With her next book.
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